Disturbances In Smell And Taste

What are Disturbances in Smell and Taste?

At the Yale Sinus and Allergy Program, we treat a variety of smell and taste disorders. Smell and taste disorders are quite common in the general public, especially the loss of smell. Even if only smell is affected, patients may experience diminished taste because the smell of a food and its flavor are closely linked. 

We understand that smell and taste disorders can interfere with quality of life because it inhibits the enjoyment of food and its palatability. In addition, diminished smell and taste can have a negative impact on overall health leading to reduced appetite, poor food choices, and malnutrition, especially in the elderly. Additionally, patients may eat rancid food because their smell or taste is not strong enough to sense that the food has gone bad. Further, people with smell disorders may not be aware when they are breathing in toxic, polluted, or smoke-filled air. 

Symptoms of Disturbances in Smell and Taste

If you have smell or taste disturbances, you may notice that food is not as palatable as it once was, or that you have a decreased appetite. You may find that you need to add more spices or flavoring to your food. A decreased appetite can lead to weight loss and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. You may also notice that scents are not as noticeable as they once were. 

This information should be used as a guideline. Not every symptom is included. If you have one or more of these symptoms, it does not mean that you have taste or smell disturbances. Please contact your doctor if your symptoms persist, as smell and taste disturbances can lead to serious health issues.  

Causes of Disturbances in Smell and Taste

The most common causes of smell disturbance are nasal and sinus disease, upper respiratory infection, head trauma, oral infections, advanced aging, and Bell's palsy. Medication can also play a role in affecting smell and taste.

Risk Factors of Disturbances in Smell and Taste

You may be at a greater risk for developing smell and taste disorders if you have: 
  • Allergic or vasomotor rhinitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Nasal polyps
  • Adenoid hypertrophy
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Head trauma 
  • Neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiency
  • Brain tumors
  • Psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia and depression
  • Endocrine disorders, such as Cushing’s syndrome and diabetes mellitus
  • Epilepsy
  • Migraine headaches
  • Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get disturbances in taste and smell; not having risk factors does not mean that you will not get disturbances in taste and smell. If you think you may be at risk, you should talk to your doctor. 

Treatment for Disturbances in Smell and Taste

Our surgeons at the Yale Sinus and Allergy Program are experts at treating a variety of causes that lead to smell and taste disturbances. 

Smell Dysfunction
The most successfully treated smell disorders are those associated with nasal polyps, rhinitis, allergies, or a reversible blockage. In some cases, steroids can be used to reduce swelling, though steroids are not always useful in restoring the sense of smell. Polyps and blockages are treated through endoscopic surgery. The term “endoscopic” refers to the use of small nasal telescopes that allow all of the surgery to be performed through the nostrils, without the need for any incisions on the face.  

The surgeon then removes the polyps. At the Yale Sinus and Allergy Program, our surgeons are experts at performing minimally invasive procedures, such as endoscopic nasal surgery, to gently remove polyps and clear blockages in the nasal and sinus passages.