DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A month ago, I caught a cold. Since then, I haven’t been able to taste anything. Eating has lost all its appeal, and I have unintentionally lost 10 pounds. My doctor tells me I just have to live with it. Can you suggest anything that will bring my taste back? — R.B.

ANSWER: Food flavor doesn’t come only from taste buds. Much of what we call taste is actually smell-related. In your case, although I can’t say with certainty, I believe your trouble comes from your nose and from a loss of smell perception due to your cold. Viral cold infections can disrupt smell receptors in the nose. Sometimes they regenerate. Time will tell if your receptors will come back. I hate to tell you this, but sometimes they don’t.

Let’s examine other possible causes. A dry mouth robs food of its taste. Saliva brings the taste chemicals in food to the taste buds. Without sufficient saliva, this meeting doesn’t take place. If dry mouth is the problem, artificial saliva can fill in for natural saliva, and medicines are available to stimulate the salivary glands’ production of saliva.

Other things that diminish taste include head injuries, nose injuries, nasal infections, nasal polyps, infections of the mouth and tongue, reflux of stomach acid into the mouth and the one condition about which not a whole lot can be done — aging. Medicines are another cause of taste loss.

If no cause can be found, you can try a number of maneuvers that revive taste. Preparation of food is important. Use spices, vinegars and oils to excite taste buds. Marinades and fruit preserves help. Chew food longer than you normally do. Grinding food releases more taste chemicals, and holding the food in the mouth increases the time that taste buds are in contact with those chemicals. Include foods with textures you don’t usually eat — crunchy foods, for example. Take a forkful of meat, then a forkful of vegetables and then a piece of bread. The change in foods stimulates dulled taste buds.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This morning, when looking into the mirror, I noticed I had white rings around the colored part of my eyes. What are they? — K.W.

ANSWER: Those rings are arcus senilis. They partially or completely encircle the iris. Next time you’re in a crowd, look around and you’ll find that many people have them. They might indicate high blood cholesterol, high blood triglycerides or neither high blood cholesterol nor triglycerides. They really are not a reliable sign of anything being seriously amiss.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a patch of numb skin on my upper left thigh. I have no recollection of any injury. Once in a great while, the same patch is a bit uncomfortable, but I really can’t call it pain. What could this be? — L.A.

ANSWER: I suspect it’s meralgia paresthetica. The nerve that supplies that area and sends sensations to the brain is trapped in tissues that squeeze it. The involved area is the same area covered by a cowboy’s holster. The entrapping material could be old scar tissue. Or it could be pressure from tight jeans or a tight belt. Sometimes it happens when a person carries too much weight.

Often, people with this condition have constant pain in the area.

If it comes from a tight belt or tight garments, you can cure it by making a change. If weight contributes to it, losing a few pounds will get rid of the sensation.

If none of this applies, a surgeon can free the nerve from entrapping tissue.

TO READERS: The booklet on chronic fatigue syndrome explains this puzzling condition and its treatment. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue ; No. 304, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

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. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


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