Ask The Doctor

A Tasteless Struggle

Dear Dr. Garner,

I used to love different types of food, but now everything tastes the same – bland. I am 63 years old. I have a touch of diabetes but no other problems.

Is there any hope that my ability to taste can be restored? I am getting depressed.

Tasteless in Sunnyside


Dear Tasteless,

Your problem is quite common. In fact, I was just talking about this topic with my good friend, colleague and a very special person, Dr. Antonio Mascatello.

As we age, our sense of smell and taste deteriorates. The areas in the nose, mouth and tongue, where taste and smell sensors reside, begin to die. Usually there are enough of these receptors to retain some sense of smell and taste, although in rare instances, these sensors are totally lost.

To make up for the lost senses of smell and taste, you may notice older people adding more salt and pepper to their food than in previous years.

The senses of taste and smell are both needed to appreciate taste. To see what I mean, you can try this experiment at home: Fill a glass with milk and another glass with wine. Keep them at the same temperature. Have someone blindfold you. Drink each glass while pinching off both nostrils so you can’t smell. The two liquids will taste identical, and you won’t be able to distingush wine from milk.

There are many different causes for this loss of taste and smell. Some of the more common causes include infections in the mouth, sinus disease, cigarette smoking, medications such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, air pollution, pesticides and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

In some cases, the loss of taste and smell can be reversed with proper treatment. For many people, however, these senses fade away and are lost permanently. If the loss is sudden, see your doctor as soon as possible as it could indicate something serious. If it has been gradual, then do some detective work to see what might be the possible underlying causes.

Losing your sense of taste and smell can present serious problems. For example, we use smell and taste to realize that something on the stove is burning, food has spoiled or there is a gas leak or smoke smell from a fire.

Just as you have described, people often get depressed when they can no longer enjoy food. Some also begin to smell odors that are not there. Some of these may be disturbing and unpleasant. Some people stop eating as much and lose weight, while others eat too much in an attempt to get some pleasure out of the taste of food.

The good news is that the most common cause of loss of taste is the result of an obstruction in one’s nostrils. This may occur as a result of allergies, irritants, a cold, cigarette smoke or cocaine abuse.

We also have to remember that as we age, certain senses will diminish. Just like our abilities to see and hear, our senses of taste and smell diminish and become less sensitive.

For those losing their sense of smell and taste, it is important to plan nutritious meals with proper portions of healthful foods to ensure you do not overdo it with salty or fatty foods. Your doctor or nutritionist can help.

Visit your doctor to see if there is an underlying and correctable cause of your sensory loss. If an underlying problem is not found, then learning to live with diminished taste and smell will be required.

MERS Concerns

Recently, I have been asked many questions regarding MERS, which stands for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. It was originally found in the Middle East, hence the name, and it is similar to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus. Patients basically get flu-like symptoms.

Right now, one case has entered the U.S., and this person has recovered. The virus does not spread easily, but the scary part is that those who contract the virus have a one in three chance of dying.

I will follow up as the situation changes, but right now there is no need for fear.[hr] Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.

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