The importance of our sense of smell and taste is often only recognized when the senses no longer perform their tasks. There are many reasons for a disorder. In most cases, however, it is only temporary and treatable, ”explains Georg Langmayr, specialist group representative for ear, nose and throat diseases at the Medical Association for Upper Austria. “Our nose can perceive several thousand scents. The tongue, on the other hand, only distinguishes five flavors - salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. In order to perceive aromas, an air flow to the olfactory cells of the nose, of which humans have around 30 million, is required. "
In many cases, sufferers do not notice a disturbance of the sense of smell immediately, as well as the effects on the sense of taste. The result: Malnutrition and malnutrition can occur, for example, as appetite decreases or food is over-seasoned. If you lose your sense of smell, there is also the risk of consuming spoiled food, which in the worst case can lead to food poisoning. It is also dangerous if the smell of burning is no longer perceptible.
“Not being able to smell or taste anything anymore affects the lives of those affected. They often reduce their social life as many activities involve eating. In addition, there is a fear of body odor, which is why perfumes and deodorants are sometimes overdosed. At the same time, the disturbance means that important, unconsciously perceived information is missing in non-verbal communication, ”Georg Langmayr points out to the consequences.
A multitude of diseases can lead to an odor or taste disorder or even loss. In autumn and winter, colds and the flu are primarily responsible for the fact that the inhaled air is obstructed on its way to the olfactory mucosa. Disturbances are also possible as a result of skull injuries, for example from a fall or blow to the head. In addition, nasal polyps and other diseases of the paranasal sinuses, a changed hormone balance (e.g. due to pregnancy), a stroke or side effects of medication can impair the sense of smell and taste, as can smoking and alcohol consumption. What is less well known is that olfactory performance diminishes with age, as the ability of the olfactory cells to renew themselves is lost.
Another cause has been keeping the world in suspense since March: the corona virus. Even if research is still in its infancy, studies show that around two thirds of those infected with COVID19 lose their sense of smell and taste. Above all, the perception of bitter or sweet flavors seems to be disturbed. With a view to the coming cold and flu season, this is an important finding for differential diagnostics. There is a good chance that the disorder will reappear, although the sense of taste seems to regenerate faster than the sense of smell, in which the renewal of the sensory cells takes several months.
"If smelling and tasting are only limited or not possible at all, an ENT specialist should definitely be consulted for further clarification," recommends Georg Langmayr. Most of the time, however, the sense of taste and smell come back on their own. If this is not the case, depending on the cause, surgery, such as polyps or a crooked nasal septum, can help. Training with sniffing sticks can also improve sensory perception.