Hypergeusia, also known as gustatory hyperesthesia, is a disorder of the taste receptors in which the sense of taste is abnormally heightened. Often, hypergeusia is associated with a lesion in the posterior fossa of the skull, or with Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease is a rare disorder that may develop when a person’s adrenal glands do not produce enough steroid hormones. Thus, those experiencing hypergeusia in correlation with Addison’s disease will experience a great craving for salty flavors in order to accommodate the abnormally high amount of ions lost in their urine.
Hypergeusia may present itself in a generalized manner, in which the sense of all tastes is heightened, or it may be limited to specific tastants, which are chemicals or substances that stimulate the sense of taste, such as salt or sugar. This disorder does not affect a person’s ability to detect certain tastes; rather it makes each taste drastically magnified far beyond what the normal response or taste should be.
Although the exact mechanism of contracting hypergeusia is unknown, the most commonly associated causes of the ailment are lesions to the posterior fossa of the skull, and often Addison’s disease. Additionally, people suffering from multiple sclerosis and diabetes mellitus have also commonly reported a new onset of hypergeusia with disease progression.
Lesions or tumors to the posterior fossa of the skull often will damage local structures such as cranial nerves that are associated with the sense of taste. For example, hypergeusia was associated with a posterior fossa lesion as noted in a case study of a 73-year-old male patient. The man reported that his wife’s cooking seemed about two to three times sweeter than normal, while his wife had not made any alterations to her recipes to add more sugar. Although many hypotheses were made in the case, the only ailment that could account for his newfound heightened sense of taste was a mass lesion present in his posterior fossa (Noda et al., 1989).
Due to the etiology of Addison’s disease, patients suffering from the disease suffer a large loss of ions in their urine, and therefore crave salty tastes to replace the lost ions. These patients often report a heightened sense of taste when it comes to salty items, leading to the belief that hypergeusia is often associated with Addison’s disease.
In other diseases like multiple sclerosis, hypergeusia can present unilaterally if the progression of the disease is only affecting cranial nerves on one side (Rollin, 1976).
Because of the unknown etiology of the onset of hypergeusia, there are no currently known treatments. Researchers continue to work to find an underlying cause so they can develop treatments and prevention measures, but until that has been accomplished, there are no current treatments for hypergeusia.
See also: Ageusia; Dysgeusia; Hypogeusia; Taste System
Noda, S., K. Hiromatsu, H. Umezaki, & S. Yoneda. (1989). Hypergeusia as the presenting symptom of a posterior fossa lesion. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 52(6), 804—805. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1032046/?page=1
Rollin, H. (1976). [Gustatory disturbances in multiple sclerosis]. [Article in German]. Laryngologie, Rhinologie, Otologie (Stuttgart), 55(8), 678—681.
Virtual Worldlets Network. (2007). Sensory malfunction: Taste. Retrieved from http://www.virtualworldlets.net/Resources/Hosted/Resource.php?Name=SensoryMalfunctionTaste