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If there is a complete loss of taste, this is called ageusia in technical jargon. This differentiates taste restrictions, in which the sense of taste is not completely eliminated, but may have changed significantly. These include the functional ageusia, in which the taste perception is significantly restricted, as well as the partial ageusia. This is the loss of a flavor (such as "sweet" or "salty").
A disturbed taste sensation often occurs in connection with a severe cold or a sinus infection. After the infection has healed, the taste is usually fully intact again. If there are other causes or the taste loss persists, a doctor must be consulted.
So that taste can arise
If the taste sensation is completely in order, this is called normogeusia. This requires three regions in the body. These have to work together so that a normal taste sensation can arise. If there is a loss of taste, one of the three regions is disturbed and, in the worst case, this can lead to a total loss, an ageusia.
The sensory organ for taste
The sense organ for taste consists of taste buds, thousands of which are in the area of the tongue and palate. This allows five different flavors to be distinguished, such as sour, sweet, salty, bitter and umami. The term umami comes from Japanese and means something like “delicious” or “tasty” and embodies the taste of salts of the amino acid glutamate, which is found in proteins.
The cranial nerves
Of the twelve cranial nerves that we humans have, three are responsible for taste. These are the cranial nerves VII, IX and X. These nerves pass on the information from the taste buds to the brain. If there are any changes here, this can result in a loss of taste.
The information gathered converges in the brain, is processed further and is then perceptible to us as taste. This can also be the cause of a loss of taste.
Causes of ageusia
As already mentioned, the causes of a loss of taste can lie in all three areas of the body that are important for the taste.
Impairment of taste buds
Taste buds can be temporarily or permanently damaged. This is caused by infections or infections (e.g. scarlet fever), chemotherapy drugs, radiation and autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome. Other triggers are vitamin B12 deficiency or iron deficiency, which affects the tongue and oral mucosa. This can result in a taste restriction or a loss of taste.
Alcohol, nicotine and certain medications (for example an antifungal with the active ingredient terbinafine) or mouthwashes (with the active ingredient chlorhexidine) are also among the causes. Other triggers are kidney and liver diseases, diabetes mellitus, thyroid dysfunction and poor oral hygiene.
Impairment of the three cranial nerves
Cranial nerves can be damaged, which disrupts the transmission of information from the taste buds to the brain. This can lead to a loss of taste. The causes of the impairment of the cerebral nerves are surgery, brain tumors, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), neuritis (neuritis) or, due to a skull base fracture, injuries to the brain stem or cerebrum.
The cranial nerves pass on the taste information to the brain. If there is a disturbance, the taste is disturbed in some way. One possible reason for this is the presence of an Alzheimer's disease, in which brain cells die. Other causes include serious skull injuries, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and brain tumors. Depression can also lead to a loss of taste as accompanying symptoms.
The visit to the doctor
In the case of taste disorders up to loss of taste, a visit to the doctor is essential. A detailed medical history is a very important prerequisite for finding out the cause of the taste loss. Doctors ask a variety of questions, such as since when and to what extent the taste has been impaired, whether the loss of taste came suddenly or has increased very slowly.
It is also important to know whether there are problems with smell or other complaints such as dizziness, visual disturbances, feeling disorders or headaches in addition to the taste disorders. It also queries which medications are taken, whether smoking and / or drinking alcohol is a regular occurrence and which illnesses are already present. This is followed by a physical examination and laboratory examinations, and further examinations are often ordered from specialists (ENT specialists, radiologists, neurologists).
In some cities there are special centers for taste disorders. These are particularly well prepared for those affected. As far as diagnostics and treatment are concerned, these centers are a recommended contact point.
The special examinations include electrogustometry and the measurement of brain waves. In electrogustometry, taste buds are stimulated with a little electricity, which triggers a taste sensation. However, this investigation is not very safe because the taste buds' stimulus triggers subjective perception.
To carry out an objective check, the brain waves are measured. Electrodes, placed on the scalp, register taste stimuli triggered by various taste substances. This examination method can be used to determine which region the disorder is in: with the taste buds, with the cranial nerves or in the brain itself.
In addition to an examination at the dentist, procedures such as CT (computer tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), sialography (checking the salivary glands) and a lumbar puncture (some nerve water is removed) are also used. Tissue removal from the oral mucosa or tongue may be necessary.
The first priority is to treat the cause or the underlying disease. In the case of causative bacterial infections, a drug from the antibiotic range is the method of choice. If certain medications are "to blame" for the loss of taste, an alternative preparation must be tried.
If the cause is a tumor, it may be removed and / or treated with chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy. If the thyroid is the culprit, appropriate thyroid medication is prescribed. Saliva substitutes can help with dry mouth.
Inadequate oral hygiene can lead to taste restrictions. Brushing your teeth, at least twice a day, and cleaning your tongue are part of proper oral hygiene. Oil pulling in the morning, before brushing your teeth, complements the whole. A good, cold-pressed oil, such as sunflower or sesame oil, is used for this. One teaspoon or tablespoon of it is pressed with the tongue between the teeth, "chewed" and distributed throughout the mouth.
The longer the oil stays in the mouth, the better. This procedure is done before brushing your teeth. What is extremely important is to spit out the oil. Under no circumstances should this be swallowed as it binds all the toxins in the mouth. Gargling and rinsing the mouth and throat also ensures a healthy mouth climate. It is important to ensure that the mouthwash without alcohol is not too spicy and is best as natural as possible, for example with ingredients such as myrrh, cinnamon, sage and other herbs.
It should also be mentioned that smoking and drinking alcohol regularly harm the oral mucosa.
Home remedies can help with simple taste disorders, for example in connection with infections in the ENT tract.
Ginger can activate the taste buds and thus stimulate the taste. It is best to chew a slice of raw ginger regularly, ideally before meals. If that's too spicy, drink two to three cups of ginger tea a day. (A slice of ginger is boiled in water for a few minutes or longer, as desired.)
Cayenne pepper helps with nasal congestion and also stimulates saliva production. This in turn is important for the taste. Refine your dishes with cayenne pepper. If you don't like this at all, you can use black pepper as an alternative.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar tastes bitter and a little sour. This stimulates the taste buds, has an antibacterial effect and supports the treatment if taste is lost. It is best to dissolve a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with some good honey in a glass of lukewarm water and drink the mixture in the morning before breakfast. The whole thing can be repeated again in the evening.
Rhubarb juice, drunk before eating, improves taste perception.
Refraining from sugar
Refraining from sugar for several weeks can improve the taste again.
Tips from naturopathy
Naturopathy can help with minor complaints and also support conventional medical therapy.
In naturopathy, taste disorders are often treated with acupuncture. But the reflexology massage is also a suitable form of therapy. The medicinal herbs chamomile, peppermint and sage are to be mentioned from phytotherapy. Mouthwashes containing chamomile and peppermint are recommended as well as regular rinsing with lukewarm sage tea.
Also worth trying
In the case of loss of taste after a flu, sodium chloratum is often recommended in the field of homeopathy, and pulsatilla after a severe cold. Those who prefer to use Schüßler salts take number 8 sodium chloratum D 6 and / or number 10 sodium sulfuricum D6.
Dryness in the mouth and insufficient saliva production can lead to taste loss. You should therefore drink enough water, preferably in small sips. Enrich your meal plan with enough fruit and compote. Both contain a lot of liquid. Water with lemon, chewing chewing gum (if your stomach is fine) and sucking ice cubes also contribute to increased saliva production. The smell and the sight of a cut lemon stimulates saliva production.
To sum up, a loss of taste must be taken seriously. In connection with infections in the upper respiratory tract, taste impairments often occur, but usually go away on their own. If this is not the case, a medical examination must also be carried out here.
Adequate oral hygiene has a supporting effect on any therapy, but is also preventive. (sw)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Merck and Co., Inc.,: Overview of odor and taste disorders (accessed: June 26, 2019), msdmanuals.com
- German Society for Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery e. V .: S2K guidelines on olfactory and taste disorders, as of October 2016, detailed view of guidelines
- UpToDate, Inc .: Evaluation and treatment of taste and smell disorders (accessed: June 26, 2019), uptodate.com
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: Taste Disorders (accessed: June 26, 2019), nidcd.nih.gov
- Bromley Steven M .: Smell and Taste Disorders: A Primary Care Approach, American Academy of Family Physicians, January 2000, aafp.org
- Mattle, Heinrich / Mumenthaler, Marco: Neurology, Thieme, 13th edition, 2012
ICD codes for this disease: F44, R43ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.