You expect your mouth to taste salty after a few potato chips. But if you haven’t been snacking and your mouth tastes salty, what’s going on?
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Ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist Michael Medina, MD, explains the most common reasons for a salty taste in your mouth and what you can do about it.
Why does my mouth taste salty?
In most cases, a salty taste in your mouth isn’t a medical emergency — but it is a sign that you shouldn’t ignore. The most common reasons for a salty mouth include:
Your saliva (spit) naturally contains a small amount of salt. But when you’re not well hydrated, the salt in your saliva becomes more concentrated. Imagine a sprinkle of salt in a glass of water versus that same amount of salt in a teaspoon of water. The teaspoon of water will taste saltier because there’s less water to dilute the salt.
“Dehydration changes the quality of your saliva,” says Dr. Medina. “Often, you can get rid of the salty taste by drinking enough water each day.”
But if you have a heart or kidney condition, don’t reach for a giant jug of water just yet. “People taking diuretics for heart or kidney disease may need to limit their water intake,” Dr. Medina cautions. “If you have any health conditions, ask your healthcare provider how much water you should drink each day.”
2. Dry mouth
Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth is when your salivary glands don’t make enough saliva. People with dry mouth may notice taste problems, including a salty or metallic taste. Usually, you’ll have other symptoms, too, like bad breath and a constant sore throat.
Dry mouth becomes more common as people age, but it can signal certain health conditions like diabetes. “Many people get relief from over-the-counter products like lozenges and mouthwashes designed to lubricate your mouth,” says Dr. Medina. “If these things don’t help, talk to your provider. Long-term dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay.”
Certain medications can cause dry mouth as a side effect, leading to a salty or metallic taste in your mouth. If you’re taking any prescription medications and notice a dry mouth, talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to switch your medication or recommend home remedies, such as dry mouth lozenges, to combat the problem.
Medications that can cause a dry mouth or salty taste include:
- Antidepressants, especially tricyclic antidepressants.
- Antihistamines, which treat allergy symptoms.
- Chemotherapy for cancer treatment.
- Diuretics, usually prescribed for heart or kidney disease.
- Pain relievers, including prescription or over-the-counter pain medications.
- Sedatives, used to treat anxiety, panic disorders or sleep disorders.
4. Postnasal drip
Allergies or a long-term sinus infection can cause a constantly drippy nose that drains down your throat. Known as postnasal drip, this symptom can also cause a salty or “off” taste in your mouth.
“If you have postnasal drip, you might feel like you always want to clear your throat or cough,” says Dr. Medina. “Postnasal drip can also affect your taste and smell. See your provider to find out why it’s happening.”
The hormonal changes of pregnancy can cause inflammation in the nose. Commonly called pregnancy rhinitis, this harmless condition causes a runny nose, postnasal drip and sometimes a salty taste.
Usually, pregnancy rhinitis goes away a couple of weeks after pregnancy ends. In the meantime, you may get some relief from saline nasal sprays. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any medications during pregnancy.
6. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD (chronic acid reflux) happens when your stomach acid leaks backward into your esophagus. “GERD can cause a salty or sour taste, but this symptom wouldn’t appear by itself,” says Dr. Medina. “Most people with GERD also have heartburn, a chronic cough or feel like something is stuck in their throat.”
Many people get relief with medications that neutralize stomach acids or decrease acid production. Untreated GERD can damage your esophagus and increase the risk of certain health problems. If you have symptoms of GERD, talk to your healthcare provider to get a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.
7. Autoimmune conditions
An autoimmune condition causes your body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue. If you have an autoimmune condition like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, you have a higher risk of getting Sjögren’s syndrome. This condition affects your salivary glands, leading to a dry mouth and altered taste.
If you have a dry or salty mouth and have a diagnosed autoimmune condition, tell your healthcare provider. They may recommend dry mouth remedies or other treatments to help.
8. Neurological disorders
Any abnormal taste, including a lingering salty taste, can mean your brain’s taste signals aren’t working as they should. But this cause is rare.
“The brain contains nerves that are connected to taste,” explains Dr. Medina. “Rarely, a problem with those nerves, such as a brain injury or tumor, can interfere with taste. Usually, however, you would notice other symptoms, like seizures, vision changes, headaches or loss of smell.”
When to see your healthcare provider for a salty mouth
A salty taste by itself is often due to dehydration or a dry mouth. See your healthcare provider if you have a salty taste and:
- Change in your voice or hoarseness.
- Lump in your neck.
- Swelling of salivary glands in front of your ear or under your jaw.
- Trouble chewing or swallowing.
- Other health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or an autoimmune condition.
“Many times, you can get rid of a salty taste with proper hydration and dry mouth products,” notes Dr. Medina. “But it’s important to find out the cause so you can get proper treatment.”