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Chemosensory Dysfunction: Coping With Loss of Smell and Taste

An image of a woman holding a sliced orangeWilliam Shakespeare wrote that “…a rose, by any other name, would still smell as sweet.” But in people with chemosensory dysfunction, this rose could smell very different indeed. Food may taste different, and things may no longer smell the same as they did before chemosensory dysfunction appeared. And while losing your sense of smell or taste may not seem to be a big deal, if you have it, it could have a major impact on your quality of life.

What Is Chemosensory Dysfunction?

Chemosensory dysfunction is a term used to describe either the loss of, or changes in, your sense of taste or smell. Those with the condition may have both senses affected. When loss of smell or taste occurs, we call it anosmia and ageusia, respectively. If your sense of smell or taste remains but has altered, we refer to it as hyposmia in the case of smell, and hypogeusia in the case of taste.

In many people, something that once smelled pleasant may seem odorous, while something that previously tasted great now tastes either like nothing or terrible. Although some may think chemosensory dysfunction holds no life-altering potential, they would be wrong.

Loss of smell could mean that you no longer smell fire fumes, gas leaks, or toxins in foods. This puts you in a dangerous position. It could also mean that you cannot discern whether food is off. Eating spoiled food could result in health issues like food poisoning, for example.

Losing your sense of taste could result in malnutrition, where you do not eat certain foods because they taste like nothing or taste bad. Or it could also result in only eating certain foods that promote weight gain, acting as a two-edged sword.

Your Risk of Chemosensory Dysfunction

There may be a higher risk of developing chemosensory dysfunction in people with issues related to inflammation. For example, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are both related to inflammation. Healthcare providers use chemosensory dysfunction as diagnostic tools in identifying these conditions. Other risk factors include the following:

  • Aging
  • Cancer
  • Metabolic issues
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Health issues relating to a viral, fungal, or parasitic infection
  • Nasal issues associated with rhinitis, sinusitis, or allergies
  • Dental conditions including a lack of proper oral hygiene

Further contributing factors include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Brain trauma or injuries to the head
  • Certain medications
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Smoking
  • Facial injury resulting in lip, mouth, or nasal cavity damage
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Overuse of alcohol
  • Genetic proclivity

More recently, COVID-19 has caused an increase in chemosensory dysfunction in people.

COVID and Chemosensory Dysfunction

Many people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection experience a variety of symptoms that seem to stay for a long time. When this happens, it is referred to as long COVID. Chemosensory dysfunction is one of the main symptoms of this condition.

Many of those affected have commented on distorted or loss of smell, or food no longer tasting as it should. In mild to moderate COVID cases, the symptoms clear up within a few weeks to six months. Up to ninety percent of those who experience chemosensory dysfunction extend beyond this period have contributing risk factors. These include their age, smoking habits, genetic proclivity, or prior olfactory issues like chronic rhinitis, for example.

The Potential Role of Inflammation

An image of a stressed man at his laptopYour Inflammation Circuit is controlled by your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. When your body experiences stress of any kind, inflammation is one of the first responders. It indicates your body is trying to fight the stressor.

While inflammation is thus a good thing, it could also cause harm if your NEM stress response activation persists over a prolonged period. Inflammation itself would then become a stressor. This is the case with many inflammatory health issues. Examples of these include:

  • Diabetes type-1 and type-2
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
  • Fatty liver disease resulting from dietary issues
  • Obesity
  • Increased susceptibility to viral, fungal, or bacterial infections
  • Endometriosis

As you can see, many of these inflammatory health issues may pose a risk for chemosensory dysfunction. Chronic inflammation and its various related health issues could thus be a contributing factor to the condition.

The risk factors associated with many inflammatory conditions and chemosensory dysfunction overlap. The different causes of chronic inflammation include the following:

  • Gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance between good and bad gut bacteria
  • Food sensitivities and allergies
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excessive exercise
  • A diet high in sugar, fat, and processed foods
  • Certain medications
  • Too little sleep
  • Chronic stress of a psychological or physiological nature

Inflammation and Your Nervous System

Inflammation also affects your nervous system, as neuroinflammation often results from toxin exposure, brain trauma, and various infections – all risk factors associated with chemosensory dysfunction. This could contribute to various neurological health issues. Many of these neurological health issues, multiple sclerosis, for example, are risk factors for chemosensory dysfunction. Long term inflammation can contribute to worsening adrenal fatigue.

How Chemosensory Dysfunction Affects People

When we smell or taste something, our brain tends to file the sensation away for future use. This is why we can remember the smell of a peach or the taste of peanut butter. We can close our eyes and smell or taste something and immediately recognize what it is. But your sense of smell and sense of taste tend to work together to a large degree. You can smell something and immediately remember the taste.

With regards to smell, a human has about 50 million olfactory receptors while a dog could have up to 300 million. This is what makes some dog breeds such good trackers. On the same note, our ability to taste is due to taste receptors. We find taste receptors on the tongue, roof of the mouth, pharynx wall, cheek lining, larynx, and epiglottis. Interestingly, some also occur in your nose, lungs, intestinal tract, stomach, and pancreas.

Most people with a higher taste receptors concentration tend towards a higher sensitivity to, and a greater ability in detecting and recognizing, different odors.

People who develop chemosensory dysfunction may see a marked difference in the perception of smell and taste. Certain foods may suddenly taste bland. Certain scents may suddenly seem offensive. As a result, these people may perfer foods that they can actually taste and/or that smell good after developing the condition. The downside to this is that they may no longer follow a balanced diet. This could result in obesity and malnutrition or under eating and inadequate nutrition.

Addressing Chemosensory Dysfunction

Your brain, gut, nose, and mouth share neural connections. What impacts one, affects the others. Addressing the issue thus involves a combination of strategies that support not only these connected organs but the entire body.

Smell Training and Breathing Exercises

An image of a woman smelling a bottle of essential oilWell-known strategies for dealing with chemosensory dysfunction include the use of essential oils and smell training to improve your sense of smell. This works because the part of the brain containing olfactory receptors constantly experiences regrowth. Smell therapy may, according to literature, stimulate those parts of the brain that regenerate to perceive smells the way you used to.

Do note, however, that smell training is usually done in conjunction with improved breathing techniques. Improved breathing techniques alone may also help improve chemosensory dysfunction.


The correct diet could help address inflammation and support gut and brain health. To do this, it could help to limit your sugar, caffeine, and processed foods intake. Instead, focus on foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber, and foods rich in probiotics that support gut health.

A healthy diet has all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs to function optimally. It will be able to help with oxidative stress and inflammation. The adrenal fatigue diet is a good example of such a diet.

When dishing up food, consider making your plate visually appealing as well. Also, consider the temperature at which you serve food as well as the food’s texture. Something crunchy or creamy may motivate a positive reaction from other senses, thereby enhancing the enjoyment of a meal.

For those with specific taste issues, remember that a half teaspoon of honey or a pinch of salt added to something bitter or sour can take off the edge. Also, make use of fresh herbs or dried herbs. Herbs and spices can contribute to the nutritional intake of any meal while adding flavor.

Oral Issues

Oral health issues can contribute to chemosensory dysfunction. So be sure to see a medical professional about any oral issues, and make sure to practice solid oral hygiene at all times.

In Closing

If suffering from chemosensory dysfunction, know that there is no quick fix. Getting the use of your senses back will take time. Perhaps a few weeks to several months. Some people may never fully get their senses of smell and taste back. But smell training, following a healthy diet, and taking care of existing oral health issues may be your first steps toward recovery.

If you would like to know more about chemosensory dysfunction, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1 (626) 571-1234 where we will privately address any concerns or questions you may have. You can also contact us through the Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2023 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Chemosensory dysfunction could very well be related to adrenal fatigue. This is because of the element of inflammation associated with the condition. Also, many of the condition's risk factors are related to symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Looking after your adrenal health may help with the condition.

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