Problems with smell and taste can make your life miserable. They can also be dangerous.
It's normal for smell and taste to gradually decline as you age. But according to NIH's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), more than 250,000 Americans visit their doctor each year because of a smell or taste disorder. Adults over the age of 60 are most likely to have a problem, with loss of smell occurring more frequently than loss of taste.
Smell and taste play an important part in our lives. The loss of one or both could put you in a potentially hazardous situation. Smell lets us know when something is wrong in our environment, such as when food is spoiled or when there's a gas leak. Taste protects us by helping us select healthy foods and avoid those that might be bad for us. (Many plants that are toxic have a bitter taste, for example). Smell and taste disorders can also lead to a reduced desire to eat, and, in some cases, lead to depression.
Colds and other upper respiratory infections, chronic sinusitis and head injuries are the most common causes of smell disorders. Taste disorders may be caused by aging, overall poor health, taking certain medications and possibly infections. NIDCD-funded researchers are now trying to understand exactly why these things bring about smell and taste disorders. Why does aging take its toll on smell and taste, and why do certain medications make the problem worse? Eventually a better understanding may lead to new treatments for people with these disorders.
It's important to realize that many cases of smell and taste loss are treatable, and some may even go away by themselves. If you have a problem, don't hesitate to talk to your health care provider about it.