How the Senses of Smell and Taste Change as We Age

It’s not your imagination – food may not smell or taste as good as it used to. The changes in your senses may be due to long- or short-term causes that can happen to anyone as they age.  

What causes loss of smell?

Many problems cause a loss of smell that lasts for a short time. This temporary loss of smell may be due to:

  • A cold or flu that causes a stuffy nose.
  • Coronavirus infection, which sometimes causes a new loss of smell. You should regain your sense of smell after all other symptoms have gone away; if not, seek medical care as soon as possible.
  • Allergies. Talk to your doctor about how to manage your allergies.
  • A harmless growth (called a polyp) in the nose or sinuses that gives you a runny nose. Having the growth removed may help.
  • Some medications, like antibiotics or blood pressure medicine. Ask your doctor if there is another medicine you can take.
  • Radiation, chemotherapy, and other cancer treatments. Your sense of smell may return when treatment stops.

Some things can cause a long-lasting loss of smell. A head injury, for example, can damage the nerves related to smell.

Sometimes, losing your sense of smell may be a sign of a more serious disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, or Alzheimer’s disease. Be sure to tell your doctor about any change in your sense of smell.

What causes loss of taste?

Many things can cause you to lose your sense of taste. If the salivary glands are damaged or aren’t producing enough saliva, this can affect taste. Most of the time there are ways to help with that problem. Other causes include:

  • In addition to the sense of smell, coronavirus infection can cause a new loss of taste. Again, you should regain your sense of taste after all other symptoms have gone away; if not, seek medical care as soon as possible.
  • Medications, like antibiotics and pills to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, can sometimes change how food tastes. Sometimes this is caused by medicines that make your mouth dry. Talk to your doctor (but don’t stop taking your medicine).
  • Gum disease, an infection in your mouth, or issues with your dentures can leave a bad taste in your mouth that changes the way food tastes. Talk to your dentist if you have a bad taste in your mouth that won’t go away.
  • Alcohol can alter how food tastes. Cutting back or stopping drinking may help. 
  • Smoking can also reduce your sense of taste. Quitting may help.

Consider seeing an otolaryngologist

If the foods you enjoy don’t smell or taste the way you think they should, talk to your doctor. He or she might suggest you see an otolaryngologist, a specialist who treats people with smell and taste problems. An otolaryngologist works on problems related to the ear, nose, and throat, as well as the larynx (voice box), mouth, and parts of the neck and face. There are likely ways to help fix the problem. If not, the doctor can help you cope with the changes in smell and taste.

Source: National Institutes of Health

 The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor with questions about your health.

Categories: Aging, Senior Health