Ageusia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on October 24, 2023
3 min read

Ageusia is the total loss of your sense of taste. It’s rare and only occurs in one to two people out of every 1,000. This disorder can be a symptom of many different medical conditions. Ageusia generally isn’t life-threatening, but it can lead to:

Ageusia may seem like other taste disorders, such as:

  • Hypogeusia, less sensitivity to tastes
  • Hyperguesia, more taste sensitivity than usual
  • Dysgeusia, a bad perception of tastes
  • Phantogeusia, tasting something that isn’t there

But it’s an entirely different condition.

Several things can trigger a loss of taste. They include:

  • Damage to your taste sensation nerve
  • Not getting enough of certain nutrients
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Tongue injury (inflammation, burns, surgery, cuts, or anesthesia)
  • Infection
  • Dental work complications
  • Cranial nerve lesions
  • Iatrogenic lesions, nerve damage caused by medical treatment
  • Neuralgia, severe shooting pain from nerve irritation or damage
  • Polyneuropathies, when several nerves don’t work the right way

For example, people with cancer in their head or neck might get radiation that causes ageusia. That’s because radiation therapy can injure your taste buds and transmitting nerves. It can also affect the flow of saliva if it damages your salivary glands.

Certain drugs may also lead to ageusia. They include:

Aging and things related to it might also affect your ability to taste, but they usually don’t lead to a complete loss of taste.

First, they’ll ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. They might also do a few tests. These could include:

  • A measure of the lowest strength of a chemical that you can taste
  • Comparison of the tastes of different chemicals
  • “Scratch and sniff” tests
  • “Sip, spit, and rinse” tests, where a doctor applies chemicals to specific areas of your tongue

There’s also a staging system that can help your doctor decide if you have ageusia or dysgeusia. The scale ranges from zero -- total loss of taste (ageusia) -- to three, which is no loss of taste.

It depends on what caused it, along with your age and overall health. Other treatment factors include:

  • Medical history and any other illnesses you may have
  • How well you can handle certain therapies
  • How long your doctor expects the condition to last
  • Your treatment opinion or preference

Some conditions fix themselves over time and don’t need treatment. If certain drugs are behind your ageusia, there may be other medications that don’t have that side effect. Your doctor might also suggest taking zinc gluconate or alpha-lipoic acid supplements. Always ask your doctor before starting a new supplement.

If a medical condition is triggering ageusia, your doctor will treat that disorder first.

In some cases, your ageusia may not go away at all. If your care team can’t find a treatment for your ageusia, your doctor should refer you to experts that can help with your quality of life.