Imagine uncorking that expensive bottle of wine you have been saving to enjoy with your spouse on your tenth wedding anniversary. You pour it into two sparkling glasses, toast to your love, and then drink. To your disappointment, the specialty wine tastes no different than a five dollar bottle purchased in the grocery store. Could your allergies be the reason your taste buds are in revolt?
We're all aware of the intimate relationship between our sense of smell and our ability to taste, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that when our sense of smell is compromised, our sense of taste is as well. Here are a few of the ways in which allergies affect both our olfactory and gustatory senses:
Stuffy Noses Make it Hard to Smell
It's hard to smell the roses, much less the Clos du Bois when your nose is congested from allergies. As Wikipedia puts it, "the sense of taste partners with the less direct sense of smell in the brain's perception of flavor." So if your nose is stuffy, you can expect that everything is actually tastier than it seems to you.
The good news about stuffy noses affecting taste perception is that it's the easiest of the allergy-related taste affecting problems to fix. For instance, if you are allergic to dust mites and find that mornings are an especially congested time for you, allergy relief bedding can help you wake up refreshed and allergy-free.
Medication Side Effects Compromise Smell, Taste
The various medications used to treat allergies often have a significant list of undesirable side effects. This is one of the reasons that allergen avoidance should be practiced to the fullest extent possible by utilizing all the tools available for environmental control of allergens.
Corticosteriods are one category of medications used to treat inflammation by blocking allergic reactions. They come in many forms, including pill or liquid ingestible forms, nasal sprays, inhalable, eyedrops, and skin creams. While each type poses unique side effect risks, nasal and inhaled corticosteroids are more likely to affect taste.
Nasal corticosteroids include the medications Flonase and Nasonex, among others, and may cause an unpleasant smell or taste and nasal irritation, which obviously would affect the ability to taste. Inhaled corticosteroids, used to relieve allergic asthma, include Azmacort, Aerobid, and Flovent, and may lead to infection in the mouth, though this side effect is rare.
Nasal antihistamines and decongestants can also cause smell/taste issues. Side effects of nasal spray antihistamines, which block inflammation-causing histamine during the allergic response, include a bitter taste, dry mouth, and nasal burning; nasal decongestants, if used for more than about a week, can lead to severe rebound congestion once the medication is discontinued.
Antibiotics, which allergy sufferers may often need to take due to secondary infections like sinus infections, can also affect individuals' sense of both smell and taste.
Complications of Allergies Lead to Loss of Smell
Allergy sufferers may experience secondary complications, such as sinus infections and nasal polyps, which would drastically impact the sense of smell and therefore the sense of taste. Sinus infections, also known as sinusitis, occur due swelling of the sinuses, which is often caused by allergies or a cold. Long term sinus inflammation and blockage, as happens with allergies, make people particularly prone to sinus infections. Acute sinusitis can last up to three weeks; chronic sinusitis, up to eight weeks. Recurrent sinusitis refers to the occurrence of several bouts with sinusitis in a single year.
Preventing sinusitis is the best way to combat it. Keeping allergen exposure to a minimum through using an air purifier and allergy bedding, and vacuuming regularly with a HEPA vacuum cleaner help reduce the allergies in your home environment.
Additionally, those who are prone to sinus infections should keep sinuses moist through the use of a humidifier and should practice nasal irrigation to keep nasal passages clear of allergens to avoid sinus irritation and swelling.
Nasal polyps can also block nasal passages and affect individuals' sense of smell. They are soft, benign growths that occur when prolonged inflammation of nasal passages causes blood vessels lining the nose to become permeable. Water gathers in the cells, and when gravity pulls on the tissue, polyps develop.
Nasal polyps develop for the same underlying reasons that sinus infections develop basically, because of prolonged blockages or congestion of the nasal cavities. Preventing them involves avoiding allergens if you have allergies and keeping nasal passageways healthy.
If you are experiencing a loss of taste, think about how your nose comes into play. Do you need to ramp up your allergen avoidance routine or adjust your allergy medications? And don't rule out more serious issues like sinusitis or nasal polyps. Your waning sense of taste could be telling you something about your body that it's not too late to address. If you fix the underlying reasons that your nose is congested, your sense of taste will eventually return as good as ever!