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An alteration of taste can be divided into three categories:

  1. Complete loss of taste sensation (Aguesia)
  2. Partial loss of taste sensation (Hypoguesia)
  3. An alteration of taste sensation (Dysguesia)

Of the three, complete loss of taste sensation is extremely rare while it is not uncommon to find evidence of the other two categories.

Some of the common reasons which can cause an alteration in taste are:

1. Physiologic changes

Older individuals commonly perceive a change in their sense of taste and this is due to a decrease in the taste buds on their tongue. There is no particular reason for this change to occur apart from the natural process of ageing.

2. Dry Mouth

A decrease in salivation due to inflammation of the salivary glands, injury or radiation therapy also affects the taste sensation. This situation is commonly associated with the alteration of taste rather than a loss of taste sensation.

3. Neurological disturbances

This is one of the more serious causes of loss of taste sensation and if suspected would need to be investigated thoroughly.

Certain degenerative disease such as Alzeihmers can cause the nerve to malfunction or there may be physical damage to the nerves supplying the tongue. The impulses from the nerve are relayed to the brain where they are interpreted and so a lesion or tumor in the brain affecting the ability to understand the signals sent by the tongue can also cause a loss of taste sensation.

MRIs of the brain will need to be taken if such a condition is found to either confirm or rule out the presence of any such lesions.

4. Tongue conditions

The tongue is host to a large number of micro organisms which co exist in the body without causing any harm under normal conditions. However, if the conditions favor them, then these micro organisms can turn pathogenic and cause an infection. Such infections are usually seen in immunocompromised individuals, where the normal defense systems of the body fail to keep these organisms in check.

Fungal infections of the tongue are quite common and will usually present clinically as a white/greenish growth on the top surface of the tongue.

The presence of any syndromes such as Benign migratory glossitis can also affect the taste sensation of the individual.

5. Alteration in sense of smell

A large majority of the 'taste' that we perceive is actually relayed to us by our nose. Many patients are unable to understand that an alteration in their sense of small can lead to a change in taste sensation. In fact, they may not notice a change in their ability to differentiate smells at all.

Smoking is one of the things that can cause an alteration in this sense of smell and thus affect the taste as well. An infection of the nasal sinuses will also have a similar affect.

It is necessary to have a complete examination done by an ENT to determine the cause of alteration in taste.

More often than not, it is easily treated however it may just be the first manifestation of something more sinister.

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