Can people taste sinus infections?

Sinus cavities.

It sounds disgusting to put it that way, but it’s actually an effective way to prevent the nasty clog in your sinus cavities.

There’s one catch: You have to be a supertaster.

About one in four people are supertasters. It means they’re highly sensitive to different tastes, particularly bitterness.  This has a downside – supertasters can also be pickier eaters since more foods will give their tastes buds an unpleasant overload. But let’s focus on the newly-discovered potential benefit.

Dr. Noam Cohen is surgeon at the hiladelphia VA hospital, specializing in procedures to reduce sinus infections. For every group of people that had successful surgeries, a handful would continue to contract sinus infections. Dr. Cohen wondered, did taste have anything to do with it?

So Dr. Cohen, along with a research team from the University of Pennsylvania and the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia studied his patients’ taste receptor tissue located in the nose (we don’t just taste with our tongues). They introduced a chemical made by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which it uses to communicate with other bacterium cells, to the tissue. And tissue belonging to supertasters did something unique.

The chemical is naturally bitter, so the supertasters’ receptor tissue was immediately on guard. The receptors activated tiny cilia cells, which work like moving bristles to actively sweep out the bacteria. They also signaled for more nitric oxide production, a chemical that kills bacteria.

The tissue of people who can’t taste bitterness at all didn’t experience any of these precautionary measures.

Dr. Cohen says it’s not necessarily what would happen in a human nose, since the lab-controlled test only examined a small bit of tissue, but hopes it will eventually lead to a better way to help those with chronic sinus infections.

Photo: sea turtle/Flickr

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