Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

Is There Any Help for My Loss of Taste?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 11:03 AM

Question: I am 80 years old and within the past two years, I have gradually lost all taste except for occasionally slightly tasting the first mouthful of something. I have prediabetes and am taking metformin.
My blood sugar is staying steady with diet and exercise. I also have slight high blood pressure and am taking lisinopril. The loss of taste came before either of these problems. When an ear, nose, and throat doctor tested my sinuses for infection, which turned out to be negative, he said it was just old age and there was nothing to be done. Is that a final sentence on the subject?

Dr. Hibberd's Answer:

Our sense of taste is very important and should be investigated further. While diabetes will cause neuropathy (nerve function problems), this is usually seen in the limbs and not in our cranial nerves unless related to stroke.

The smell and taste senses are codependent, and should each be evaluated. Poor function of one will affect the function of the other. Once the anatomical "problem" is isolated, the cause will be more obvious.

You need your central and peripheral nervous system carefully examined. See your dentist and request a consultation with a neurologist.

Your first cranial nerve (responsible for smell) exits from the brain through a thin plate on the front of our head above our eyes, and is subject to damage from trauma, fracture, stroke, tumor and infection. Your doctor can easily check for correct function of this nerve by testing your sense of smell.

Taste is easily tested by testing with sugar, salt, vinegar (acid) and quinine (bitter) on both sides of the back of your tongue. Brain stem disease may affect taste, but is often overlooked due to the severity of other co-existing losses of brain function.

Loss of taste can be worsened by excessive seasoning and salt, which can damage oral tissue and impair the ability to taste even further. Good oral hygiene and adequate saliva is essential for adequate taste receptor function, and is often affected by medications.

Peripheral nerve problems, oral hygiene problems, medications, infections and inadequate saliva with or without mucosal (superficial tissue in mouth) dryness and atrophy (shrinkage) are common causes of loss of taste. More serious causes include stroke, aneurism and various mental and neurological disorders.

The fact that you can occasionally taste something suggests a local peripheral (and probably less serious) cause that is likely correctable. Have your primary care doctor review all your medication and supplement use for any mixtures that may cause taste loss.

Though the taste buds do become less sensitive as we age, total loss is not expected. Do not accept this as normal.

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