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Smell & Taste (Chemosensory) Disorders

What Are Smell & Taste Disorders?

Chemosensory disorders cause a loss or distortion of the sense of smell and/or taste. The ability to smell and taste start when molecules of substances stimulate sensory cells high inside the nose (olfactory nerve cells) or food and beverage stimulate the taste buds of the mouth or throat (gustatory nerve cells). The stimulated sensory cells transmit messages to the brain to identify as a particular taste or smell.

Smell and taste disorders can be the result of a number of health issues, including:

  • Head injuries

  • Hormonal changes (e.g. thyroid disorders)

  • Illnesses, such as a cold, the flu or a sinus infection

  • Nasal polyps

  • Radiation treatment for cancer

  • Smoking or using drugs like cocaine

  • Surgery of the ear, nose or throat

  • Other medications (e.g. blood pressure medicine)


When chemosensory disorders are present, symptoms might include:

  • Changes in taste or smell — Normally pleasant smells or tastes can become unpleasant, or things don’t taste as they should.

  • Inability or reduced ability to taste or smell — It’s rare for people to be completely unable to smell or taste, but it’s not uncommon to have a weakened ability.

  • Smelling phantom odors — Also known as an olfactory hallucination, sufferers of this condition smell odors that aren’t there.

  • Phantom taste perception – A constant unpleasant taste, even when not eating.

Treatment Options

Treatment for smell and taste disorders depend on the underlying condition, so treatment may include:

  • Managing health conditions — Smell and taste may return when underlying health issues, such as respiratory infections or nervous system disorders are addressed.

  • Medication management — Some medications can alter the senses of taste or smell, so stopping or changing the dosage of these medications may help. Patients should not stop taking prescribed medications without first talking with their doctor.

  • Smoking cessation — Toxic chemical exposure accounts for up to 5 percent of all olfactory disorders, and toxic chemicals include cigarette smoke.

  • Smell retraining — Repeated short-term exposure to odors for 3-6 months may improve/recover the sense of smell.

  • Surgery — Removing polyps or other obstructions may stop chemosensory process interference.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of smell and taste, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat smell and taste.