Changes in Taste, Smell, and Hormones After Brain Injury

Question: 

My sister fell down some stairs in March 2012. She was rushed by air ambulance to the hospital with a traumatic brain injury. Ever since her fall, she can no longer taste or smell anything. Her hands and feet are always freezing cold. Will her taste or smell ever come back, and why she is so cold all the time?

Answer: 

Loss of taste and smell has been reported to be as high as 25 percent after traumatic brain injury. The loss of taste is generally due to loss of smell. Loss of smell has many possible causes including injury to the nose, nasal passages, sinuses, olfactory nerve, and the brain. The olfactory nerve brings the sensation of smell from your nose to the brain. Since this nerve passes from the nose to the brain, it is at high risk of injury when there is trauma to the head.

There are some medications that can also cause impairments in smell or taste that are commonly prescribed for people with traumatic brain injury, including some antidepressants, seizure medications, antipsychotics, muscle relaxants, and narcotic analgesics. A close evaluation by your sister’s physician is important to make sure there are no reversible causes of loss of taste and smell. If her senses of taste or smell have not returned a year post-injury, it’s unlikely, unfortunately, that they will.

Click here to see BrainLine’s video with Dr. Greenwald on the topic of changes of taste and smell after TBI.

As far as feeling cold all the time, it has become recognized that there can be changes in hormones after traumatic brain injury. A careful assessment of your sister for reasons she feels so cold should include blood tests that measure her hormones (thyroid, cortisone, sex related hormones, and growth hormone).

Please refer to this comprehensive article regarding the treatment of headaches.

More on TBI-related headaches.

Spasticity is another cause of pain more commonly seen after moderate to severe brain injury.

Watch this video with Dr. Greenwald about TBI-related spasticity.

Posted on BrainLine June 9, 2014. Reviewed July 26, 2018.

Comments (192)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I had surgery to remove a brain tumor in the left frontal lobe. The tumor was near the optic nerve, but the neurosurgeon never mentioned the olfactory nerve. Now, almost three months after the surgery, I constantly smell a very odd aroma. It started out right after surgery being very mild and usually only in the morning, but it's getting stronger and more unpleasant, and is now ever-present and distracting. I'm concerned it will eventually obliterate all other smells, ruin my sense of taste, and distract me from normal activities. If the brain injury is due to a tumor that was removed, will this get better? It just seems to be getting worse and worse.

I have been injured in my head in different 4 places with about 6 ml each spaces blood frozen. I sought for medical examination after 2 days of my accident and doctor suggested medicines rather than surgery. I am taking 'Levetiracetam' USP 500 mg. I am taking some vitamin capsules and paracetamol also along with medicines. I have lost my original taste and smell, instead I smell and taste the same smell or taste in everything that I eat or smell. Beside I can feel the difference in Sour, Hot(chilly) and salt only. Is it because of medication or because of the injury in sensetivity of taste or smell regarding my nervous system? How can I get back my original taste or smell? Please suggest me.

Very helpful. Thank U

After being told my husband Molested my adult daughter the end of May 1990, I immediately felt numb followed by serious sinus infection that turned into bronchial pneumonia. Experienced delayed response to pain as well. Three weeks later realized I’d completely lost my sense of smell & taste. Over the past 30+ years since then I’ve very slowly regained some sense of my sense of smell & taste. Recently while driving on country roads identified the disgusting odor of skunk. Six months to a year after losing sense of smell & taste I saw skunk roadkill & it smelled sweet & pleasant. Several years later I began using Zinc drops under my tongue. Some time after this I was walking on a beach & recognized the fishy smell of the ocean. I felt elated! Recently my family & I have been eating vegan, gluten-free & no sugar or dairy. It seems like I’m smelling & tasting more.

FYI ~ Have never smoked or drank any kind of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine or hard liquors. Have been a vegetarian my entire life. The past year or two have eaten gluten-free a good deal, but not until the past couple weeks have gone entirely vegan, gluten-free. Seems these changes are favorable to improving my seemingly dead senses of smell & taste. LOL.

Be of good courage. There is hope. Asking the good Lord to aid in your healing is also a good idea. Have a blessed day!

I had a blackout probably due to a heart arrhythmia I have it was 2 months ago and I cannot taste or smell after the concussion I also have personality changes and depression I just lost a new job I believe because my memory was also affected it’s almost ruined my life everything tastes and smells like Burt plastic. Hopefully the ablation for my heart arrhythmia will help I just feel so not right after this it’s changed my personality and thoughts. I just hope it gets better any ideas on how long this takes

I had a brain injury and I lost my sense of smell. Is it safe to get a nose job even though I haven’t got my sense of smell back? Or would the surgery affect the process of getting it back?

I fainted in 8/2019, and loss my smell and taste, since then some smells and flavors are really offensive and gross example: I just to loved onions and garlic, and now I hate them!! They smell and taste horrible; I can't stand the smell of perfume, I don't know what to do to fix that. I need
Somebody with answers, helpppp.

I can’t smell and taste and even sleep for almost 2 months i dont know whats happening to me. Sometimes, i want to give up and end my life. Does anyone here feels the same way with me?

Dear R23,

I'm so sorry that you're going through this and that you don't feel understood. You may think no one has ever experienced what you’re going through and that no one can help you. I'm here to say that you can get through this.

Have you expressed what you’re struggling with to your family or to a friend? If you’re not comfortable talking with them or feel they're unable to understand, please consider reaching out to one of these confidential resources:

National Suicide Crisis Line (24/7)
1-800-273-8255

When you call you will hear a message that you’ve reached the crisis line, there will be brief hold music while you’re connected. Then a skilled, trained crisis worker who works at the Lifeline network crisis center will answer the phone. This person will listen to you, understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share any resources that may be helpful.

Crisis Text Line (NAMI)
Text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to talk via text message.

When you text HOME to 741-741 the first two responses are automated. They tell you that you're being connected with a Crisis Counselor, and invite you to share a bit more. It usually takes less than five minutes to connect you with a Crisis Counselor. When you’ve reached a Crisis Counselor, they’ll introduce themselves, reflect on what you’ve said, and invite you to share at your own pace. You’ll then text back and forth with the Crisis Counselor. You never have to share anything you don’t want to.

I just had an STBI about 5-6 months ago and was hospitalized for over two months... Lost my sense of smell and taste (and I used to LOVE tasting food and describing the flavor and listing the ingredients). But heck, the loss of my sense of smell and taste is nothing due to the fact that I also lost my ability to hear...

November 2019 I met with an accident to brake failure in motor bike
I've been diagnosed with hemorrhagic concussion on temporal side
Since then I've lost my senses of smell and taste and I've problems in remembering I can't remember many things happening recently I can't remember few things happened within two years
Though I'm having a little bit of recovery in taste and smell still its not considerable enough
Will I become normal? Can I get back my senses? Please tell me the fact.l, so many people are giving me false hopes

Did you ever get your smell/taste back? I'm still waiting for mine to come back 8 months after a similar incident :(

Yes i loss taste and smell after big blow to the head from a bike accident. 20 years later i did some research and believe alpha lipoic acid helps - a cheap food supplement - also i once took prozac and that had an amazing effect but didnt like the slurred speech...

I had a brain injury and fractured skull about 6 years ago when I was in highschool. Had blood coming out of my right ear and no recollection of the events. I lost my sense of smell and taste 6 years ago but slowly over the years it has surprisingly gotten better... I went from not being able to taste anything what so ever to slowly regenerating my taste, I think the most notable time my smell increased was probably in the last few years. I would say currently, my smell is about 50-60% and taste is around the same but sometimes higher.. if I had my eyes closed and you put 2 light flavored things in my mouth such as macaroons, I wouldn't really be able to tell the difference. But burgers, chickens, pizza, I can tell the difference. Over the years I've kind of developed my own library of smells based on smells/tastes I remember in the past and also now. I can smell people, I now find comfort in smells such as my girlfriend, I can tell when she puts perfume on and all that. I now find myself craving certain foods compared to 6 years ago, I find enjoyment in certain foods such as chipotle or wanting to eat sushi and all that. There has been studies in the past where people slowly regenerate their senses over time, sometimes decades later. I just want to shed some light of hope for some of you that are out there, I may never check back at this again or maybe I will years later but I hope I can ease your situations a little. Years ago I thought I would never get anything back but slowly and gradually I started getting it back. I have no idea if I've reached my "peak" or maybe I'll still get more, but if it comes back slowly over 6 years I'm sure it can go a bit more.

Thank you for posting Kenny, your story has help me a lot.
I lost my sense of smell and taste over two years ago after being hit by a car. At first I couldn’t smell anything which I found frustrating and also quite frightening.
I can now smell a wet day, however it is a little strange but a wet day nevertheless. I can also smell a sweet smell when I have washed my hands with soap (That is it nothing else).
Hopefully this will continue to get better. However I was getting despondent that my loss of smell wouldn’t improve further. Your story has made me more hopeful.
Good luck with your continued smell recovery.

My name Bill. I fell 30’ off roof onto my head on ashphalt, broke 4 vertebrae, suver hemorrhage, broken ribs , brain shifted 1.5 “ over, have no sense of smell and can only taste chicken fish bran muffin some fruits , I was paralyzed neck down but can walk and drive now this accident happened April 19 2020 it is saverbut I am defining all odds by thinking positive, I go through mood swings and if stopped taking pills and alcohol which is helping, I had a great job but they won’t let me back till I’m 100 percent, my doctor thought I would be able to get back in 4 months but it’s been 8 so far I still have pain in back , left arm , fatigue, left ribs , I don’t let this stop me , I have been training my brain and memory of things I used to do like automotive ,race car driving ,now I’m working on smell and taste so some foods I put on hot sauce it has been working but drink lots of water I use vics vapor rub once in a while under nose not in nose to open nose passages it has been working , I know everyone who has the same issues are going through think positive and be very lucky we are still alive don’t get depressed, exercise and stay healthy god bless all of you

Please Tell me why when I eat a very small cup of ice cream or suck a lollipop my sense of smell goes of the charts and small glass of wine causes me to smell things that is two houses away!

I wonder if wine is high in zinc that your smell improves after drinking it?

My cousin met with an accident and blood came out on ear and he doesn't have any taste and smell if he smelled only blood smell is coming he's saying

I lost my sense of smell when i was treating maleria with my head aching

After a fall downstairs in 2006 I lost my smell and taste, I always feel hot and my personality has completely changes. Nearly 15 years on and things have not changed, although I can tell if someone has a smoke or drinks coffee (I smell the same thing for both but it's not the actual smell you smell). I can now tell when my kids fart. I think over the years you adapt a really sweaty man was in a line of people and I could only smell sweaty fried onoins. You do also get chemical, burnt food and spices smells. I suck mints to help with this it happens every so often and can last weeks. Anyone the same??

Within 24 hrs after my husband had a brain hemorrhage and it was a big one I noticed a smell coming from him and 9 years afterwards he still has this same Oder it’s not bad it doesn’t stink it’s kinda chemical I’ve asked doctors if they ever heard of this and what about brain injury/trauma causes this and no one knows I miss the smell of my husband’s pillow clothes of him before his stroke now all his pillow clothes everything smells like the chemicals his body puts off

I had an accident October 12th, and from in between the skull fracture, 2 brain bleeds, brain shift and swell, my smell/ taste went away on November 11th. I was able to get out of the hospital October 21st. Now I’m going through a phase where a smell hits me now. When the smell time hits me, it’s one smell so I can’t just pick something up and it smell differently, it’s one constant smell for a few hours and then it will go away? Has anyone had this also? Or know what it could mean?

I'm suffering a really nasty unexplainable burning smell after a severe head injury 8 weeks ago loss of taste also

Me too and i a
Hate it..i camt even eat cuz food taste like fabric

I lost my sense of smell in January due to a head trauma, for the last week or so I started smelling what seems to a chemical smell but it never goes away

I blacked out due to a ventricular heart arrhythmia and hit my left side of my head. I can’t taste or smell for last 2 months everything tastes and smells like a burnt plastic. I’m also very depressed and suicidal a lot. It’s scary and I’ve tried to get help but supposed to get an ablation of heart arrhythmia soon. I hope at least that helps my chest pain and palpitations. I lost my new job as a nurse because I think my memory was affected also it changed me and I really feel trapped. Will I ever be the same person??

I see you posted this in March.. are you still smelling that smell?

I have the same thing. I hit the back of my head on July 30th. Lost my taste and smell. My taste isn’t totally gone but I can’t tell the difference between things like two different flavors of yogurt, and can’t really taste spices. My sense of smell is completely gone but within the last weekend two, I too have this chemical, maybe metal smell that won’t go away.. gives me a headache. Hoping that don’t smell this forever!

Same here, I smell like electrical wire burning..my surgeon told me my brain is sending a wrong signal. I lost my sense of taste & taste 3 days after the vehicular accident, and I regain my sense of taste after 3 weeks but more on salty and sweet taste no distinct taste of the food im eating, I don't know if it's a chocolate,apple,chicken, grilled meat or the spolied food because I dont have the sense of smell.It's already 4 years and 6 months now since the accident.

I fell backwards on a sidewalk on Dec. 23 rd of last year. I got a concussion and now have zero sense of smell. I also have this background “smell” that is unpleasant, like chemicalish. When I eat I taste the chemical flavor, and hardly any real flavor. When I sit down to eat, I still hope and expect to taste, but every time it is a disappointment.
Has anyone heard of stem cell treatments for this?

Hey mate I recently went through same thing blacked out and woke up no knowing where I was or anything but lost my smell and taste about 4 weeks ago now.

I was in a car accident couple years back hit my head pretty with the airbag but didn't lose smell or taste but now I can not smell perfume food, cleaning supplies nothing and the only thing I taste slightly is salt this started three days ago just frustrated and annoyed at this point don't know what to do.

On December 30th I got hit by car and I was rushed to the hospital and I had a brain bleed. After 2 days I was released and they had me on anti seizure medication and I went through all my proper tests like ct scans, mri’s eeg/emg. And now I lost my sense of smell at the end of January and I’m afraid it’s going to be permanent is there anything I can do or is there hope for me.

Has anyone had their sense of smell heighten after concussion? Usually I’m stuffy all the time. Now I smell too much and it’s making me so sick!

Yes...vehicle crash 3.5 years ago, and I suffered a concussion at base of skull with 2 hemorrhagic strokes (brain bleeds) in both hemispheres...my sense of smell was very intense for the first couple years and most smells triggered severe nausea...sense of smell has since returned to "normal", but I continue to suffer numerous lingering issues from the TBI...for me the initial impact was left side of skull above ear with a secondary impact at base of skull (fracture) with the most severe bleeding in right hemisphere of brain

I do.. I knocked my forehead pretty bad (the left side of the head just on the hair line ). two years later i can smell every thing.I can even tell who has been in the room with out even asking, so long as i know your smell. Funny thing i have started remembering all the faces i have even seen.. the bad thing is my personality is really changing.

Yes. I got a massive concussion in October 2019 and had 3.5 months of concussion and speech therapy. I've had a heightened sense of smell and just recently a non-stop smell of cigarette smoke that makes me feel sick.

I had 2 accidents weeks from eachother which included a til over where I got knocked out for a good amount of time. At least 10 min. (A year ago now) and I too smell smoke all the time. Did you find anything out

Trying to get a diagnosis for tbi after an accident 7 years ago. Symptoms have slightly worsened over the past years but have gotten drastically worse. I’d have an over heightened sense of smell a majority of the time, smelling my friends perfume before I saw her outside with her standing by a fire.
Anyone else struggling to get diagnosed?

In February 2016 I got hurt at work falling on wet floor had a massive tear of rotator cuffs in shoulder was in physiotherapy then surgery in may then physiotherapy for months was back to work and doing work hardening for shoulder still. My family dr sent me to a neurologist because went for something and he said you are on phenobarbital and dilentin and you haven't had a seizure for forty years maybe you dont need medication my neurologist sent me for an MRI EKG and blood work then I was to slowly wean off my medication and start taking keppra at same time now maybe a week into doing this had a fall hitting my head on a desk falling on water in the next few weeks got worse but thought it was new medication combined with old medication giving me horrible side effects was not saying much in physio as I assumed it was medication finally looked up concussion. It fit what I was going through but said will diminish so thought I could work through it big mistake exhaustion emotions bright lights off balance memory crashing overwhelmed me brain shuts you down. Couldn't remember or figure out my medication so my neurologist said just go back to your original meds that you take then we will do the keppra when your better. You even cry for no reason my neck was In big pain also then they realized i had a bad whiplash also thank heavens for acupuncture helps alot my wife was cleaning the sink with bleach and couldn't smell it she grabbed the bottle because i kept trying to smell it. Three years later I have decreased sense of taste everything tastes bland. Oh yea I dont drink hardly at all not ever been into drugs but smoke a half a pack of cigarettes a day for some reason lost all craving for over thirty days for cigarettes but as I got better cravings came back. What was weird was for months had what I called alzheimers symptoms brain fog did things out of order then one morning felt better than good realized haven't paid any bills for over two three months went on my desk top to pay some got out my debit card which I dreaded doing my son always told me never save it to your desktop but when I'd go to enter it would always have to enter it three times and make mistakes and then leave it on my desk and go to work without it in the past anyways I looked at the card signed on and it went right in first time thought I got lucky afterwards realized card was still in my head looked at all my cards and they stuck also. Felt exhausted went back to sleep. A week later they were still there in my head as I got better my head felt like it was racing inside I had a compulsion to know things medical and scientific couldn't stop I would lay in bed thinking fifteen minutes went by and five hours had gone by doing research solving things putting puzzles of information together.Finally after three years it's not racing twenty four seven but have amassed a huge amount of information and solved so many things people look at me weird when I say things it's like I swallowed a dictionary so now I dont say much to avoid the looks. It turns off like a switch in my head on and off. I do suffer severe neck problems and ringing in my right ear decreased taste and sometimes smell weird odours you think brush my teeth maybe that will help. I do have a personality change not bad but understand so many things now very clearly and take fir granted that people know what I know but then I think before this happened I knew very little. Still experience a lot of daydreaming your mind wanders spelling is off now . But this overactive neurol pathway in my head gets bad at times. My head would always operate say driving on side roads but now it races at times on a highway I'm happy its diminishing it seems quieter inside my head. My balance is good but you feel a little off centre. For two months couldn't deal with movement no tv or cell phone would make me nauseous would lay still In bed in dark room glad that went away you recover from concussion but with weird side effects. Just wish the sternocleidomastoid would stop going into spasm with the upper trapeze muscles effecting the trigger points below the occipital muscle at the base of the back of the skull. See sounds like a dictionary. Remember were not back to normal but were alive in pain but alive.

I fell off from bike coz of accident 5 days ago I'm feeling OK got slight injuries slight pain in head that's OK but I'm not able to taste anything I can't smell anything is that alright I'm irritated but also scared I'm l fine can I get back my senses I'm afraid please guide me

I have the same problem caused by the same accident. Did you get your smell and taste back?? I’m so worried...

I suffered TMI from car wreck in 1976! Concussion didn't even merit special attention in those days. I was unconscious for 10 days and while I was in hospital afterwards I can remember putting salt on my ice cream then eating it. Taste and smell never came back, and phantom smells (glue used in model aircraft kits most recently) have become more frequent. Sorry to say that, but of course everybody is different. At least we're not alone - don't know why that should help but it does.

Has anyone heard of loss of smell and taste after having heat stroke. It happened 8 months ago and after the heat stroke two weeks later my smell was gone.. I would love to hear if this is possible. I have seen a ENT and was told I have a small retention cyst in my maxillary sinus but was told there is no way this could cause my loss of smell. so any one out there please let me know.

I understand the reason of loss of taste & smell after a skull fracture. But, how is it that a person can now eat spicy food when they could not before TBI?

They say people that can't eat spicy food is because they have heightened taste buds they are very sensitive to spices. So it's possible you have taste buds now but are not as heightened diminished a bit so spices dont effect them now after the concussion.

I have had three MTBIs: One in 2003, falling backward out of the bathtub, one in 2014, after tripping and falling backward in the driveway, and the worst one in 2016, when I tripped over some uneven pavement at work and fell flat on my face. That incident got me a broken nose (two places), gash across my nose, "road rash," a busted lip, black eyes, and a concussion with vestibular complications (like being unable to walk across a patterned carpet or turn my head without needing to throw up). They say that cumulative traumatic brain injuries, no matter how mild, are not good. I can vouch for that. My latest issue is smelling things that aren't there (phantosmia), that no one else can smell. This could be garbage, sewage, smoke, an electronic burning smell, hydraulic fluid, fresh paint, or just about anything. This is beyond frustrating and can be frightening. There is probably nothing that can be done about it. Learning to live with this new normal...

I totally feel for you, understand and identify.
I had a large brain menginoma resection, 3 months ago.
I can only smell someone’s
cigarette smoke. ( I don’t smoke)
I have a horrible taste in my mouth, all of the time.
I taste and smell plastic/ chemical.
My ENT and Brain surgeon said I have phantom smells.
I’m praying my senses come back.
You’re definitely not alone in this.

What does the smell, smell like? I smell a chlorine smell which was after i got chronic sinutisis.

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