The sense of taste is important to every person. Taste is what motivates most people to eat a particular food or to dislike a certain kind of food. That is why when a person experiences a taste disorder, it could take a significant impact on his or her overall health because eating can become abnormal.
More than 200,000 patients visit doctors in the US every year due to problems with their taste and smell. These two problems are somewhat related. Some people have mistaken a smell disorder for a taste disorder and only discover their real problem after they have seen their doctor.
Every person has taste cells or gustatory cells in the mouth. These cells are clustered together in the taste buds located at the upper portion of the mouth along the throat lining and in the tongue. When a person chews food or drink, these cells stimulate special sensory receptors that send a message to the brain to identify the taste. Every taste cell has receptors that will respond to any one of the basic tastes, namely sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami or savory. At birth, it is estimated that a person has about 10,000 taste buds and they start to die out after the age of 50.
However, for various reasons, a person may suffer from a taste disorder. It could develop after an illness affecting the middle ear or the respiratory system. Others have it after a head injury or after a surgery affecting the nose, ear and throat. When a person is exposed to certain chemicals, medication, antihistamines or antibiotics, there is also the risk of developing taste disorder afterwards. Radiation therapy in the neck or head of cancer patients may also cause this disorder. In addition, a person may also be born having this condition. It can also develop over time due to dental problems or poor hygiene.
There are different types of taste disorders that could affect people. One of the most common is the phantom taste perception which is characterized by a lingering taste even though you have nothing in your mouth. Some people also experience metal taste in mouth or sweet taste in mouth. There are also cases when a person has reduced ability in the five different kinds of taste and this condition is called hypogeusia. There is also a condition called dysgeusia when a person’s sense of smell and taste is distorted. In this condition, there is a persisting foul, rancid, salty or metallic taste in the mouth. At worst, some people cannot identify any taste at all when they are suffering from ageusia. But it is a rare case because the loss of smell is more common than loss of taste.
A doctor who specializes in taste and smell disorders is an otolaryngologist. An otolaryngologist specializes in conditions affecting the nose, ear, throat, neck and head. Normally, the doctor will measure the lowest taste quality that a patient can detect to recognize the type of disorder. He may also conduct a physical examination of your nose, ears and throat as well as dental examination to assess your oral hygiene. Once a physical test is done, that patient may also have to undergo a series of other tests to support his diagnosis.
A taste disorder may or may not be treatable depending on its cause. But in all cases, you should see your doctor if you are experiencing it so that he or she can give you the best advice for its proper remedy or treatment.