How Can Someone Get Taste Back During a Cold?


Quick Answer

It is unlikely that sense of taste will return during a cold. This is because as much as 80 percent of taste comes from sensors in the olfactory system, which is impaired during a cold.

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While a cold lasts, people are usually deprived of their ability to taste and smell. This is caused by inflammation and congestion of the nasal passages. People must wait until their cold disappears to regain their full ability to smell and taste, which can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks after the cold disappears to return. In some cases, people never fully regain their abilities to taste and smell. This is commonly the case in people who use cold-alleviating products that have zinc, according to the American Rhinologic Society.

Senses of Taste and Smell
Although the human tongue has thousands of taste buds, it identifies only several primary tastes, which are sweet, bitter, salty and sour, notes the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The ability to taste food and process that taste is carried out by olfactory receptors, which are located at the top of the nasal cavity. When a scent reaches the olfactory receptors, they interpret and measure the odors. In turn, this produces various flavors that people taste in foods. While people usually consider them separate senses, the sense of smell largely influences the sense of taste. Because of this correlation, if the nasal passages are congested and swollen, the olfactory sensors cannot adequately interpret the tastes that are in food. Because the olfactory receptors cannot distinguish between the different scents, foods end up tasting largely the same to people with colds, regardless of whether they are sweet, spicy or sour.

Alleviating Cold Symptoms
People are largely powerless to regain their abilities to taste and smell while they are suffering from a cold, but they can take some measures to alleviate the symptoms of nasal congestion and swelling. Keeping the nasal cavity and sinuses moist is one way to reduce swelling and congestion. People can do this by taking long showers, running a humidifier, using a saline nasal spray and drinking plenty of fluids. Individuals can also put warm compresses over their faces and take over-the-counter medications to alleviate cold symptoms. People can also help colds go away faster by resting.

Changes in the Brain During a Cold
After the cold leaves the body, senses of smell and taste start returning relatively quickly. These senses bounce back much faster than other senses after they've been impaired, such as the sense of sight, according to the staff at Northwestern University. Researchers at Northwestern University found that even though people lose their senses of taste and smell while they're sick, their brains start working on different ways to regain those senses when illness settles in. When a person's nasal cavity is congested, the brain starts looking for ways to compensate. When people get colds, their brains change by increasing activity in the orbital front complex. Simultaneously, a brain will decrease activity in the piriform cortex when the olfactory system is impaired. These changes take place quickly and only temporarily. Once a person starts to recover, the brain changes its signals again to ensure that the olfactory system returns to working as normal in the way that it did before the cold.

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