Healthgrades Editorial Staff
What is bad taste?
Bad taste, also known as dysgeusia, is a common symptom of gastrointestinal reflux disease, salivary gland infection (parotitis), sinusitis, poor dental hygiene, and can even be the result of taking certain medicines. Taste problems can also be the result of an interrupted transfer of taste sensations to the brain or a dysfunction of the way the brain interprets these sensations.
Heartburn, or gastric reflux, is a common cause of bad taste. Stomach acid regurgitated into the mouth produces a bad taste described as an acid or metallic taste. An infection of one of the major salivary glands is also a common cause of bad taste. Similarly, poor dental hygiene causes bacterial growth in the mouth that could results in a bad taste. Another possibility is a viral infection that may damage the tongue’s sensory cells and result in changes to the sense of taste. Other mouth or tongue disorders, including mouth ulcers, are possible causes as well.
Bad taste may also result from radiation therapy and medicines, such as antibiotics and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. Taste problems may take months or even years to resolve, and some changes may be permanent, especially if the mouth is a target of direct radiation therapy.
Bad taste in your mouth can be a sign of a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care if the bad taste in your mouth is persistent or causes you concern. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience difficulty breathing or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit).
What other symptoms might occur with bad taste?
Bad taste may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.
Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with bad taste
Bad taste may accompany other symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system including:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating from gas
Salivary gland symptoms that may occur along with bad taste
Bad taste may accompany symptoms related to salivary gland disease including:
- Decreased ability to open the mouth
- Dry mouth
- Pain in the face or mouth
- Redness over the side of the face or the upper neck
- Swelling of the face or neck
Nasal and sinus symptoms that may occur along with bad taste
Bad taste may accompany symptoms related to nasal and sinus conditions including:
- Postnasal drip
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose or nasal congestion
Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition
In some cases, bad taste may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have bad taste along with other serious symptoms including:
- Difficulty breathing
- High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Loss of weight
- Other sensory loss, such as sight, hearing or smell
What causes bad taste?
Inflammation and infection of the upper respiratory tract, sinuses, mouth, and tongue can result in bad taste. Symptoms may arise from inflammatory conditions, infections, or diseases that affect the taste buds of the tongue responsible for the sensation of taste. Gastrointestinal reflux disease has a similar affect on the surface the tongue, which may be damaged by gastric acid and bile.
Gastrointestinal causes of bad taste
Bad taste can also be caused by gastrointestinal disorders. Examples include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Intestinal gas
- Peptic ulcers
Other causes of bad taste
Bad taste can also be caused by other conditions including:
Mouth ulcers or abscesses
Poor oral hygiene
Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disease characterized by dry eyes and mouth)
Serious or life-threatening causes of bad taste
In some cases, bad taste may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:
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- Oral cancer
- Severe infection
Questions for diagnosing the cause of bad taste
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your bad taste including:
- Do all foods and drinks taste the same?
- Do you smoke?
- Are you having difficulty eating?
- Is your sense of smell normal?
- Have you changed toothpaste or mouthwash?
- How long has your taste problem lasted?
- What medicines do you take?
- What other symptoms do you have?
What are the potential complications of bad taste?
Because bad taste can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Excessive weight loss
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection
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- Taste - impaired. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003050.htm. Accessed April 21, 2011.
- Salivary gland disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/salivaryglanddisorders.html. Accessed April 21, 2011.