DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This past winter I had a bad cold. After it was over, I found I couldn’t taste food. My sense of taste hasn’t come back. Will this ever get better? – C.T.

Loss of taste is a subject I dread. There is no medicine that restores it. It sometimes comes back, but saying that yours will return is something I can’t do.

First, check your medicines with your doctor. There are many medicines that interfere with taste sensation, including blood pressure medicines.

If you started a new one this past winter, it might be the culprit.

Illnesses affect taste. Viral illnesses like colds can dampen taste sensations. After the cold goes, taste may come back, but it may take a long time for its return.

Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancers, liver cirrhosis, radiation to the head and neck, and migraine headaches can diminish taste.

Smell is an important component of taste, and allergies, nasal polyps and post-nasal drip greatly contribute to taste loss. Correcting the correctable conditions restores taste.

One problem, often overlooked, is dry mouth. Saliva carries food chemicals that stimulate the taste buds. Without saliva, taste is greatly diminished.

Many things, including Sjogren’s syndrome, bring on mouth dryness, and countering a dry mouth can perk up taste.

Changing the way you eat also helps. Even if you do not have a dry mouth, take a sip of water after each mouthful to carry food chemicals to the taste buds.

Alternate foods with each bite. Your meals should include foods with a wide variety of textures – crunchiness, smoothness, softness, hardness – to stimulate taste sensations. Liberally using flavorings you aren’t accustomed to – spices, lemon juice, vinegar, pepper, curry, chili powder – helps taste sensation.

The greater the range of flavors in a meal, the greater are the chances of your taste buds wakening up to those flavors.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’m scheduled for knee-replacement surgery in two months. I don’t fear the surgery, but I fear needing a blood transfusion because of AIDS. My surgeon says this is needless fear.

I’d like to hear that from you. Can I? – P.R.

Sure, you can. It’s needless fear. Prior to 1985, blood transfusions were a risk for transmitting AIDS.

With the appearance of a reliable AIDS test and with checking every unit of donated blood using that test, the risk for transfusion-acquired AIDS is very small.

It can happen if an infected donor happens to be in the “window” period of the illness. That’s the period between infection with the virus and the date when the blood test becomes positive. That period has become short, only about 22 days.

The probability that an infected person volunteers to donate blood within three weeks of infection is very low, close to zero.

You have a greater chance of being involved in an automobile accident than you do of catching AIDS from a blood transfusion.

Furthermore, knee-replacement surgery almost never calls for a transfusion. You are worrying about something that you need not be.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I developed a neck bulge. It didn’t hurt, and I have felt and still feel quite well.

My doctor sent me to a specialist, who said it is a goiter and tried to get a sample of the thyroid gland with a needle.

He couldn’t, and I had to have a biopsy with a scalpel. I have Riedel’s thyroiditis. I’m not taking any medicine. Should I be? – M.H.

“Itis” at the end of a word indicates inflammation. Riedel’s thyroiditis is an inflamed thyroid gland or a thyroid gland that was inflamed in the past.

The gland becomes hard as a rock and might enlarge – a goiter. Most of the time, thyroid hormone production isn’t disrupted.

However, structures adjacent to the gland, like the esophagus (the swallowing tube) and the trachea (the windpipe) can be compressed by the gland.

If that’s the case, they have to be surgically freed. It appears you don’t need thyroid hormone or surgery. The cause of this condition is unknown.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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