Smell and Taste: The 2 Important Senses We Lose When We’re Sick

Losing our sense of smell and taste can be challenging, especially during the holidays.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If only your nose would stop running and you could breathe properly!  As the temperatures start to drop, colds, flus, viruses, and respiratory illnesses increase. One of the most frustrating parts of becoming ill is when you start to lose your sense of smell and taste. The holiday season is filled with delicious home-cooked meals, baked treats galore, and a never ending supply of hot cocoa, so not being able to taste or smell can be frustrating, to say the least. But why do we lose our sense of smell and taste when we get a cold? 

Sense of Smell

Our sense of smell comes from the chemosensory system. Olfactory sensory neurons (specialized sensory cells) are found inside of our nose. These sensors contain odor receptors that send sensations directly to your brain. That’s why that fresh cup of joe stimulates your sense of smell immediately as it’s brewing. Did you know that humans can recognize 10,000 different odors?

Respiratory illnesses can impact the tissue in the nose that contains the olfactory sensors. Colds and upper respiratory illnesses cause inflammation around the nerves or, in some cases, the nasal lining within the nerve itself. When our nerves are blocked by this inflammation,  they are unable to properly function, and hence, we are unable to smell.

We all love to taste winter treats!Sense of Taste

80% of what we taste comes from our sense of smell. Although the two senses are separate from one another, they are very much intertwined. 

When we take a bite from a meal, the food comes into contact with nerve cells on our tongue. These nerve cells are inside of the taste papillae (or taste buds) — the numerous bumps on our tongues. Each taste bud contains 10 to 50 sensory cells. As with our olfactory sensory neurons, these sensors then transmit the messages to the brain. 

The temporary interruption that impacts our sense of smell will also result in our inability to taste. This is a prime example of how closely knit together the two senses are. 

It is especially important to note that losing your sense of smell and taste is a common symptom of COVID-19. If you are experiencing this symptom, Hospitality Health ER recommends getting tested for COVID-19. Visit your state’s department of health website for more information on COVID-19.

For more health tips, visit our Hospitality Health ER blog, where we’ve recently covered Why Allergies Get Worse in the Fall and Foods That Boost the Immune System. For notifications on new posts and what’s new at HHER, follow along with us on Facebook.