What are taste and smell disorders?

Updated: Jan 08, 2021
  • Author: Eric H Holbrook, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Smell and taste disorders traditionally have been overlooked in most aspects of medical practice because these specialized senses often are not considered critical to life. However, they affect everyday enjoyment of food, and they impair detection of the potentially dangerous smells of smoke or spoiled food.

Anxiety and depression, as well as anorexia and nutritional deficiencies, may result from taste and smell disorders. In the aforementioned study by Singh et al, the investigators reported that at 1-year follow-up, 60% of TBI patients with anosmia suffered from depression, versus 36% of those without anosmia. [17]

Many causes of smell and taste disorders exist, and the modalities of treatment begin with treating the specific deficit, if possible. Unfortunately, much about the diagnosis and treatment of taste and smell dysfunction remains to be discovered. Most "taste" defects are truly alterations in perception of flavor due to smell defects, and they should be treated accordingly.

Some standardized tests, such as the butanol threshold, odor identification, Sniffin' Sticks, UPSIT, and olfactory-evoked potentials, can help diagnose and measure olfactory dysfunction.

Reassurance is one of the most important aspects of treatment in these disorders because cures are often difficult to obtain and spontaneous resolution may take weeks, months, or years.

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