New York Eye and Ear Infirmary
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Smell and Taste Disorders
What causes smell and taste disorders?

An estimated four million Americans suffer from a smell and taste disorder. The taste and smell senses are also known as the "chemical senses." There are special nerve cells in the nose (olfactory cells), mouth (gustatory cells) and throat that when stimulated by odors or by food they transmit messages to the brain where they are identified.

Smell and taste disorders can be caused by a large number of problems. Studies have shown that our sense of smell and taste diminishes with age. Our chemical senses actually peak at age 20 and decline thereafter. Many smokers complain of an impaired ability to identify odors and a diminished sense of taste. Medications can also cause smell and taste disorders. Sinus disease, respiratory infections, hormonal disturbances, dental problems, prolonged exposure to certain chemicals, growths in the nasal passages, injury to the head or, in rare circumstances, brain tumors also affect our sense of taste and smell.

How are smell and taste disorders diagnosed?

A medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed. Diagnostic tests may also include a CT scan and olfactory nerve testing.

Can smell and taste disorders be treated?

The cause of the smell or taste disorder will determine whether or not treatment will improve the condition. If you are a smoker and have a diminished sense of taste and smell, quitting smoking will help improve these senses. If the smell and taste disorder is caused by the medication that you are taking, improvement should occur when the medicine is stopped. Many people with respiratory infections, allergies, or colds experience a loss of their sense of taste and smell, but regain these senses when placed on decongestants or antihistamines or when they are feeling better.

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