Can medicines alter your sense of taste?

Also called taste disturbances

Key points about medicines and taste

  • Some medicines have a side effect of altering the sense of taste.
  • This may vary from person to person and may depend on the type of medication.
  • If you are concerned about this issue, talk to your doctor.
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Some medicines do have an unpleasant or bitter taste. This usually settles after a few hours, and is unlikely to cause ongoing problems. However, some medicines have altered sense of taste as a side effect. This can be an ongoing issue that may affect your eating habits and lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. It may even cause people to stop taking their medicine. 

Symptoms of taste disturbance can include:

  • having a sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or metallic taste 
  • losing some of your ability to taste
  • becoming more sensitive to taste
  • losing your sense of taste.

The way that medicines cause taste disturbances is unknown. Possible explanations include:

  • changes in saliva production (especially decreases)
  • changes to the cells in your mouth
  • affecting the nerve fibres responsible for the taste sensation 
  • causing infection
  • nasal congestion and sinus blockage.

The following are examples of medicines that may cause taste disturbances. Note, sometimes this may be specific to the brand of medicine. 

  • Terbinafine
  • Atorvastatin
  • Metoprolol succinate
  • Omeprazole
  • Varenicline 
  • Zopiclone 

Since not all taste problems are caused by medicines, it is not always easy to know whether medicines are the cause. Problems or changes in taste may be due to the underlying condition such as a type of infection, eg, sinus infection, middle ear infection or infection in the mouth.  

Taste is often related to your sense of smell because this largely dictates the flavour of most foods. The causes of smell disorders such as smoking, aging and conditions affecting the nervous system, eg, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, can also cause taste disturbances. 

Some people may try to compensate by masking symptoms with additional fluids for a fry mouth or by adding salt or sugar for flavour. But this may not be good for your health. If you have lost some sense of taste, you can try chewing your food really well so the flavour is released as much as it can be. Switching the foods you eat or adding more spices and herbs to add flavour may help. 

If you are worried about your medicines affecting your sense of taste, do not stop taking your medicine suddenly as this can make you feel unwell. Instead, discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist. Sometimes a more suitable medicine can be found which will not affect your taste, or your dose can be reduced.

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, Healthify He Puna Waiora. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Maya Patel, Pharmacist, Auckland

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