Loss of smell and taste- a Chinese medicine perspective

Losing the sense of smell and/or taste is much worse than it sounds. The two senses are connected and usually, but not always, both are affected together. Acupuncture can be helpful for both. Some people lose their sense of smell after an accident or a surgical operation, or after a serious problem with their nose, and some people just lose it more gradually. Recent newspaper articles have described the different ways that people experience and deal with the problem and there is a charity called Fifth Sense which offers support and advice. As effective treatment seems hard to come by, I thought I would tell you about the positive effects of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.

In Chinese medicine theory, which is quite different to Western Medicine, the sense of taste is related to the digestive system and the Earth element (in terms of the Five Elements). The sense of smell is related to the lung and the Metal Element, and is also affected by any imbalance that leads to an excess of phlegm (and the Chinese concept of Damp). Both the patients that have experienced a return of taste and smell with acupuncture treatment, had a weakness in their Earth Element. Neither of them came for treatment because of their loss of smell and taste, but both were really surprised and delighted when it returned. One woman came for problems with energy, sleep and emotional upset and I used acupuncture to reduce Damp and strengthen her Earth element. Her sense of smell had become faint and she described her taste as ‘metallic’. Although neither were top priority for her, she reveled in their gradual return to normal. The second woman also had a variety of physical problems and I found a weakness in both her Earth and Metal elements. I strengthened her Earth using acupuncture and also treated her lung-related meridians with acupuncture and moxa. In between treatments she used the moxa stick herself at home and she found a new delight in life as her senses returned. They are still somewhat variable, and disappear when she has a cold, but her continuing self-help with moxa keeps them coming back. Both of these patients took about eight weeks of treatment before seeing improvement in their smell and taste.

I am sure that acupuncture will not be so effective for everyone, but it has great potential if the loss is not congenital or a result of major trauma. Also, as I will need to treat the whole person, you are likely to feel other benefits along the way.

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