Loss of sense of taste
December 26, 2011 5:56 AM   Subscribe

I just heard from a friend in another state that she suddenly lost her sense of taste, or at least it altered noticeably. She said she has no other symptoms, does not have a cold or congestion, but sweet tastes less sweet and she has to put lots of salt on anything else to give it taste, which she does not normally do. She is in her early 50s, mostly healthy, and is now visiting relatives for a few days. then will be taking a long drive back home. Any ideas what this could be, and could it be serious?
posted by mermayd to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
She should see a doctor for sure. Could be anything that could impact the brain.
posted by empath at 5:59 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

'this the season for eating pine nuts.
posted by mhoye at 6:08 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

My uncle lost his senses of smell and taste, but as the after effects of a life altering stroke. The stroke left him comatose for days and in rehab for months, but the part of his brain that was damaged involved these senses. I would see a doctor ASAP.
posted by readery at 6:09 AM on December 26, 2011

She will need to see a doctor. I have a friend around her age and several years ago had a cold or flu where she also had a fever. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but she can no longer smell light smells or taste certain things. The doctor thought it might come back but it hasn't.
posted by Yellow at 6:10 AM on December 26, 2011

I lost most of my sense of smell following a two-week bout of some respiratory virus. Along with it went most of my sense of taste. Doctor said some viruses can do that, and some of them are not well known. Sometimes it comes back, sometimes not, he said. It's been about a year and a half and much of the sense has returned, albeit very slowly and incrementally. Nice to smell garlic again, and taste wine.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:13 AM on December 26, 2011

My mom lost her sense of smell after a slip and fall head injury. It came back gradually. She lost weight as a result.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:35 AM on December 26, 2011

Did she use Zicam, a homeopathic cold remedy responsible for hundreds of people who suddenly lost their sense of smell after using it?
posted by Elsie at 6:35 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

A sudden change in the senses could be a central nervous system problem, and you do not fuck around with investigating things like that.

I don't think she should drive until she rules out CNS issues.
posted by tel3path at 7:01 AM on December 26, 2011

If she can still taste sweet and salt (and probably bitter), then the problem may be with her sense of smell, not the taste buds on her tongue. Flavor perception is really a combination of taste and smell. Loss of smell is called anosmia — there's quite a list of possible causes at the Wikipedia page. Yes, it could be serious so medical followup is strongly recommended.
posted by beagle at 7:37 AM on December 26, 2011

For a co-worker, this was the first symptom of Parkinson's. So it could be nothing at all or or could be something serious. If it persists after she gets he she should see a doctor.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:30 AM on December 26, 2011

My sense of taste was completely messed up after a round of Cipro. (Or it was the underlying bug causing the pneumonia, not sure.)
posted by gjc at 8:31 AM on December 26, 2011

I know someone who partially lost her voice, meaning she sounded like she had a mild to moderate case of laryngitis. Doctors told her it was this that and the other but it never got better. She finally found a doctor who looked more carefully and noticed that one of her vocal chords was no longer working. That led quickly to the real problem: A large but thankfully benign brain tumor. The surgery was horrible. The recovery slow. But a few years later she is back to normal. So, the point is, don't mess with these sudden changes to normal senses and bodily functions. As others have pointed out, it could be nothing or it could be something serious.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:36 AM on December 26, 2011

Has she been doing any type of hormone therapy? Hormonal changes can definitely affect taste.

My sense of taste and smell was altered significantly the morning after I started taking a new form of the pill (things that I liked/enjoyed made me nauseous overnight, desensitized taste to sweets, heightened sense of smell and taste to bitter and savory foods). I stopped taking that pill a few months later, and my senses returned to normal with a couple of days.
posted by raztaj at 10:22 AM on December 26, 2011

The Chronicle just had an interesting article about the loss of sense of smell/taste this morning. As folks have said above, the reasons vary from not too serious to serious.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:43 AM on December 26, 2011

Thanks everyone. I will relay this information to my friend. This is all helpful and informative stuff.
posted by mermayd at 12:28 PM on December 26, 2011

I think this was one of my friend's first symptoms of Bell's Palsy. But as all say above, so many different possibilities.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:57 PM on December 26, 2011

If I remember correctly, my father lost his sense of taste when he got diabetes.
posted by htm at 2:14 PM on December 26, 2011

On the not-so-serious, medicine-can fix-it end of the spectrum: nasal polyps.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:08 PM on December 26, 2011

My friend thanks everyone for their advice, she spoke to her nephew who is a nurse and is going to call a doctor. She said no head injury, no zycam, she is not taking any meds currently and feels fine otherwise.

The good news is that her sense of taste seems to be coming back a bit. Thanks again for all your replies.
posted by mermayd at 4:44 AM on December 27, 2011

SF Chronicle article mentioned above: Scientists address anosmia, loss of sense of smell
posted by Carol Anne at 6:10 AM on December 27, 2011

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