The medical term ageusia refers to a total loss of the sense of taste. It’s caused by health conditions like infections or nutrition deficiencies, or as a side effect of medications. It also can be a symptom of COVID-19. Often, the sense of taste returns after the underlying cause is treated.
What Is Ageusia?
Ageusia is the total loss of your sense of taste. It’s typically caused by another underlying problem. Complete loss of taste is rare.
Other Taste Disorders
Other types of taste disorders include:
- Hypogeusia: Less sensitivity to taste
- Hypergeusia: Increased sensitivity to taste
- Dysgeusia: Tastes that are distorted and may be unpleasant
- Phantogeusia: Tasting something that isn’t there
Symptoms of Ageusia
The main symptom of ageusia is the complete loss of taste in all foods. Ageusia could lead to other problems like:
- Decreased desire to eat and loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies
- Weak immune system
- Changes in mood and mental health
Potential Causes of Ageusia
Conditions or injuries that impact the health of taste buds can cause changes to taste. This can come from damage directly to taste buds or disruptions in the nerve signals from the taste bud to the brain.
Several diseases or injuries can cause a loss of taste, such as:
- Nerve damage or neuralgia
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Smoking cigarettes
- Hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone)
- Anemia (low levels of red blood cells)
- Diabetes (high blood sugar)
- Crohn’s disease (autoimmune disease causing inflammation in the intestines)
- Tongue injury or burn
- Sjogren’s syndrome (autoimmune disease that attacks the glands that produce saliva and tears)
- Complications from dental work
- Polyneuropathy (conditions where multiple nears aren’t working properly)
- Middle ear surgery where the chorda tympani (a tiny nerve in the middle ear) is transected (cut across)
Some medications may cause the side effect of losing your taste, including:
- Antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Neurological medications: Anti-parkinsonism, CNS stimulants, migraine medications
- Cardiovascular drugs: Blood pressure medications, diuretics (water pills), statins (lower cholesterol), antiarrhythmics
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Thyroid medications
Risk Factors for Ageusia
Risk factors for losing your sense of taste may include:
- History of diabetes and high blood sugar
- Thyroid diseases
- Autoimmune conditions
- Neurological conditions (diseases affecting the nervous system)
What’s the Connection Between Ageusia and COVID-19?
Changes in the sense of smell are a common symptom of the flu or colds. But a complete loss of taste has been less common and often a side effect of a loss of smell.
However, with COVID-19, researchers estimate that about 39% of people positive for COVID-19 experience a loss of taste. That means approximately every 4 out of 10 people with COVID-19 will experience changes in their sense of taste.
The study found females were more likely than males to report taste loss. In addition, taste loss was higher in middle-aged people.
Diagnosis of Ageusia
First, your healthcare provider will ask questions about the taste changes and medical history and complete a physical exam. They may do a few tests like:
- Taste tests to compare different tastes and the lowest strength you’re able to sense
- Sniff tests (tests the sense of smell)
- Imaging (to assess the nerve health)
The healthcare provider will rule out possible causes of taste loss like medications or loss of smell.
What Treatments Are Available for Ageusia?
The treatments available for ageusia all depend on what caused the loss of taste. In most cases, treating the underlying conditions resolves the loss of taste.
For example, ageusia caused by an infection may go away after taking antibiotics. If it’s a side effect of medication, your healthcare provider may need to adjust your medications. Sometimes lifestyle changes, like smoking cessation, can help restore lost taste.
In very rare cases, your sense of taste may not come back. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions and treatment options.
Tips and How to Prevent Ageusia
It’s not always possible to prevent ageusia because it’s caused by other conditions. Still, there are some things you can do to lower your risk of losing your sense of taste:
- Avoid smoking and using tobacco products
- Wash your hands regularly to avoid infections
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Avoid drinking or eating extremely hot beverages or foods
Ageusia is the total loss of your sense of taste. It’s an extremely rare condition and is usually a symptom coming from an underlying cause. Causes of ageusia may include infections, injury, nerve damage, and medications.
Ageusia can lead to loss of appetite and desire for food, weight loss, and nutrient deficiencies. Most of the time, ageusia improves when the underlying condition is treated.
A Word From Verywell
Losing your sense of taste can be a strange experience and impact your quality of life. It can even prevent you from telling if a drink or food is spoiled. Or, it can reduce your desire to eat and lead to malnutrition.
Typically, ageusia is only temporary, and your sense of taste will return. In the meantime, try to keep eating a healthy and nutritious diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can ageusia last?
How long ageusia lasts varies. Some people’s sense of taste will return within a few days, while other people may go weeks or longer without being able to taste. In very rare cases, ageusia may never go away.
What’s the difference between ageusia and dysgeusia?
Ageusia is the total loss of taste, while dysgeusia is an altered sense of taste.
When should I see a healthcare provider for ageusia?
Often, a sense of taste will return on its own without treatment. Still, if you suddenly lose your sense of taste, it’s usually a sign of another condition, so it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider.