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Causes of a Salty Taste in the Mouth

Author:   Peter Sedesse MD

Identifying the type of abnormal salty taste in the mouth

There are many diseases and other health conditions which can lead to a reoccurring, abnormal salty taste in the mouth.  The more serious conditions which can cause changes to the way tastes are perceived also will have other, more serious symptoms which will probably be noticed first.  It is also important to differentiate if the taste is truly salty, or if it is more metallic in nature.  A metallic taste is usually caused by bleeding in the mouth or as a side effect of a medication.  A salty taste on the lips, and in the mouth can have a wide range of causes, some very common, some very rare.

Dehydration as a cause of a salty taste in the mouth

The most probable cause of a salty taste in the mouth is simply dehydration.  The more dehydrated a person is, the more concentrated the chemicals are that are in saliva.  The lips will also gradually become more salty when a person is dehydrated. Casually licking your lips without realizing it can lead to an abnormal salty taste in the mouth.  For people who exercise regularly or work in hot environments without properly hydrating, this may occur frequently as they become dehydrated.

There are two easy methods to test to see if you are dehydrated.  The first is to simply look at your tongue in a mirror. The tongue should always have a smooth, wet appearance.  If the tongue looks dry, you are dehydrated.  The second way is to quickly pinch the skin on the top of your hand.  If you are properly hydrated, the skin should spring back almost instantly. If you are dehydrated, the skin will stay pinched out of shape for a few seconds.

Colds, post-nasal drip and eye drops can cause a salty taste in the mouth

The second most common cause of having an abnormal salty taste in the mouth is from post-nasal drip.  This frequently occurs during winter, or when allergies are acting up.  The bacteria, along with the fluid the body secrets to wash the bacteria away will have a salty taste.  Normally, this fluid will run down the back of your throat, but on occasion it can enter the mouth and produce a salty taste.  Depending on your allergies, this can happen very frequently.  It is also important to note that using eye drops can cause the same effect.  Eye drop solution will enter the tear ducts, which empties into the nasal cavity where it can make it´s way into the mouth.  Eye drops have a very salty taste, so even a small amount in the mouth will give an unpleasant salty taste.

Smoking can cause saliva glands to become infected

The glands in your mouth and jaw that produce saliva also can cause a salty taste in the mouth if they become infected.  These infections occur frequently in smokers, but last only a short time and usually produce no symptoms other than abnormal saliva quality which leads to the abnormal taste.  Smoking causes these infections in two different ways.  First, smoking will cause a dry mouth, which prevents the mouth from washing away excessive bacteria.  Secondly, the mechanics of smoking sometimes result in bacteria from the mouth being pushed back through the saliva ducts to the glands, where they cause an infection.  Because these glands produce large amounts of liquid, the infection is usually quickly cleared, but still causes abnormal tastes in the mouth for that short amount of time while the glands are infected.  Unfortunately, in heavy smokers these types of infections occur frequently which produces the salty taste in the mouth all the time.

Diseases that cause a salty taste

There are also several medical conditions which can produce an abnormal, reoccurring salty taste in the mouth.  There is a condition called Sjogren´s syndrome which can cause this effect.  In Sjogren´s, the antibodies produced by the body erroneously attack certain glands of the body, mainly those that produce tears and saliva.  While a salty taste in the mouth is a symptom of Sjogren´s, dry, itchy eyes are usually the most prominent symptom.

It is also possible for disorders of the nervous system such as MS or even a small stroke to cause the sensation of taste and smell to be disrupted, however, both of these conditions would result in other, much more noticeable symptoms than a salty taste in the mouth.

An allergic reaction involving the tongue can also affect the way tastes are perceived, especially if the reaction is limited to a certain area of the tongue.  In most cases, the reaction is fast and easy to identify and thus the cause of the salty taste would be quickly identified.

Most occurrences of a constant abnormal salty taste in the mouth is linked to smoking, which greatly increases the rate of salivary gland infections.  Post-nasal drip is also very common and can result in a bad, salty taste in the mouth, which is especially pronounced if the drip is caused by eye drops. The few medical conditions that could result in a salty taste in the mouth each have much more obvious symptoms that are noted first.


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