With my usual winter cold this year, I lost both my sense of taste and smell. I worry that this may be due to my age (70) and would appreciate your advice.
It is possible to taste only four flavours—sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Our ability to smell is far more important, and the smell of the food in our mouth is most of what we perceive as taste.
The cells which sense smell are covered in fine, microscopic hairs and are situated at the top of the nasal cavity at a level that is just below our eyebrows. These nerves send appropriate signals into the brain.
When you have a cold, thick mucus may cover the fine hairs and prevent them from reacting to the odours in both the environment and the mouth. As a result, you perceive that you have lost your sense of taste, when in fact it is smell.
In most cases, the problem disappears as the cold resolves, but if there has been a severe bacterial infection of the nose, the smell cells may be damaged, and the sense of smell will not return until these cells are able to repair themselves.
To prove what I am telling you, next time you feel that you have lost your sense of taste, with your eyes closed have someone put a crystal of sugar and then salt on your tongue—you’ll immediately be able to tell which is which!
I have suffered for many months with a failure of the sense of taste and cannot distinguish one type of food from another. I am 88 years old and am wondering if this problem is due to old age or illness.
A wide range of conditions can cause a loss of taste. These include lead poisoning, a lack of saliva causing a dry mouth, an underactive thyroid gland, some forms of stroke, a condition called Sjogren’s syndrome and numerous rarer conditions.
In older people a dry mouth is a common cause of poor taste sensation.
You should get your general practitioner to give you a thorough going over to exclude any illness as a cause of your problem. If nothing specific is found, old age may have to be blamed.