A taste disorder easy to overlook

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She'd just had a cold, which is why she was not feeling very hungry, she thought, assuming her appetite would return soon. 

Then, one day, it happened that the rest of her family could not swallow the soup she'd made because it was too spicy, but she herself felt nothing.

Le Thi Nguyet, 29, recently came to the Nhan Sinh private hospital in Ho Chi Minh City after suffering acute weight loss from skipping meals, sleeplessness and constant stress.

Nguyet was diagnosed with dysgeusia, a taste disorder for which she would have to undergo long-term treatment.

Doctors warn that loss of appetite is not always a temporary symptom that can be left to go away by itself.

Dysgeusia is a distortion of the sense of taste that leads to severe malnourishment, even the loss of ability to recognize rotten food, and depression.

Doctor Hoang Cong Minh, director of the Nhan Sinh Hospital, said they have received many patients with taste loss and depression.

Minh said the condition is not rare, but many people still consider it a post-illness symptom and fail to seek proper treatment.

He said the disorder keeps people from eating, and it is the lack of energy over a long time that causes fatigue, anxiety and then depression.

Minh said many patients have sought psychological treatment, while ignoring the root of the problem - dysgeusia.

The disorder can be caused by distortion in the taste buds that interfere with the gustatory pathway, chemotherapy, or the deficiency of zinc, which is responsible for the repair and production of taste buds, or xerostomia the dry mouth syndrome.

A large variety of drugs can also trigger the taste disorder, especially those that affect the production of cells, such as antibiotics or antihistamines which are commonly used for the relief of protein allergies.

Viral infection and endocrine disorders can also cause the condition, as does oral hygiene.

Minh said treatment for the taste disorder is still limited. Current treatments include the use of artificial saliva or oral pilocarpine (an eye drop substance to treat glaucoma) which mimics the characteristics of natural saliva by lubricating and protecting the mouth but does not provide any digestive or enzymatic benefits, or the patients can use breath mints and gum to increase their own saliva flow.

Medications have been linked to between 22 and 28 percent of taste disorder cases, according to global research, and thus changing drug therapy is a recommended treatment.

The taste sensitivity is also improved when any bacterial or yeast infections in the mouth are gotten rid off.

Taste disorder due to injuries to the sensory systems is cured once the injuries are healed, Minh said, reiterating that people should seek medical advice if they suffer loss of appetite that does not go away in a few days.

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