You may have heard of dysgeusia, ageusia, and anosmia. All three disorders are potential symptoms of COVID-19. While ageusia is the total loss of taste and anosmia is the partial or total loss of smell, dysgeusia refers to a distortion in your sense of taste. With this disorder, foods that you once enjoyed may no longer be enjoyable.
Up to 17% of adults living in the U.S. have dealt with dysgeusia.
There are a number of conditions and factors that can contribute to dysgeusia developing. A partial or complete loss of the sense of smell is one of the main contributing factors to dysgeusia. This is largely seen in patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Other causes of dysgeusia include:
Infections that are bacterial, viral, or fungal and are found in the gums, mouth, or throat may cause swelling of the affected tissues. As a result, a reduction in blood flow to the taste bud occurs. This can alter your sense of taste.
A loss or altered sense of taste may also be a symptom of COVID-19.
Medications & Treatments
Side effects from certain medications can cause you to experience an altered sense of taste. These medications include amoxicillin, metronidazole, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, captopril, and other high blood pressure medications.
Those who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment may also experience dysgeusia. This is especially common in those being treated for head and neck cancers.
Thanks to changes in hormones, dysgeusia often occurs during pregnancy. Symptoms usually subside once the first trimester has ended.
Tobacco products contain certain chemicals that can alter your taste buds. Additionally, tobacco usage is known to cause changes to the tongue and throat that can also lead to an altered perception of taste.
Dysgeusia has been linked to several health conditions, including:
- Dry mouth: Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth can occur due to a number of factors. Medications, Sjogren’s syndrome, and radiation therapy are all factors that can contribute to dry mouth. A lack of salvia can then affect your taste buds.
- Deficiencies: Those who are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, such as zinc of vitamin B, are at an increased risk of developing dysgeusia.
- Inflammation: Conditions in which the tongue has become inflamed can alter your taste receptors, thus giving you an unusual taste when you are eating.
- Nerve damage: When the nerves in control of your taste sensations are damaged, dysgeusia can occur. Nerve damage occurring from ear or neck surgery or from Bell’s palsy can also result in dysgeusia occurring.
- GERD: Chronic acid reflux from GERD oftentimes leaks into the mouth and alters the taste buds.
- Neurological disorders: Certain neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis have been linked to an increased risk of developing dysgeusia.
- Metabolic disorders: Metabolic conditions such as hypothyroidism, kidney disease, diabetes, and liver disease have been associated with dysgeusia.
- Dental prosthesis: As you age, the prosthesis can cover the soft palate. This causes the activity of the taste receptors to decrease.
The main symptom of dysgeusia is a distorted sense of taste. This distortion in taste can present itself in the following ways:
- The food you have enjoyed in the past is no longer enjoyable due to a bad or rotten taste.
- Sweet and salty foods no longer taste sweet or salty.
- Foods have a bitter taste.
- You have an unpleasant, metallic, or sweet taste in your mouth despite not having eaten anything
First, your doctor will perform a complete medical history and physical exam.
After the exam, you may be asked to complete other tests including:
- Comparing tastes of different chemicals
- Sip, spit, and rinse tests where chemicals are applied to certain areas of the tongue
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Those who have a vitamin deficiency will receive supplemental vitamins. If dysgeusia is caused by medications, a switch to a different medication may be necessary. Those who are diabetic or have problems with their thyroid, kidney, or liver will require management of these disorders.
Smokers who reduce or stop smoking can also see improvement with dysgeusia. Similarly, stopping all tobacco use may improve your dysgeusia as well.
Managing Dysgeusia With Food
It is recommended that foods with numerous ingredients be avoided since their ingredients cause a blend of different flavors to come together, often resulting in an unpleasant effect for those with dysgeusia. Additionally, foods that are spicy, sweet, or filled with preservatives have been linked to an increase in dysgeusia symptoms.
Instead, those with dysgeusia should eat simple food with only a few ingredients.
There are no medications or vaccinations to prevent dysgeusia from occurring, but there are certain steps you can take to decrease your likelihood of developing it. For instance, quitting smoking, drinking plenty of water, avoiding contact with those who are COVID-19 positive, and having good oral hygiene are all steps you can take to decrease your chances of experiencing dysgeusia.
The outlook for dysgeusia is generally favorable. Most of the time, this condition resolves itself once the underlying cause has been treated. In some cases, dysgeusia cannot be treated but can still be managed. In these cases, the treatment for dysgeusia focuses on maintaining healthy nutrition and appetite.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you’re concerned that you have dysgeusia or have recently been diagnosed with this disorder, you may be wondering what questions you should ask your doctor. Although you are free to ask your own questions as well, it’s important to consult your doctor regarding the following information:
- Is your altered taste from a loss of taste or a loss of smell?
- Are your medications potentially the culprit behind your altered sense of taste?
- Is there an underlying disease or condition that could have altered your taste?
- Would taking supplements help?
- What other treatment options are available to improve your sense of taste?