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 (128)

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...

A year ago woke up in a hospital the not knowing what had happened. A car accident apparently..the night before.
I hear a lot about losing sense of smell and taste a lot here.
I have exactly the opposite. It's like I've gone back to basics when your life would depend on your senses. I smell everything 1000 times more. Drives me crazy. I smell every plant, people, their hopefully good smells, but mostly the the bad ones. Can't be around of some my friends I used to hang out with..simply because they smell bad now. So bad, I'm about to puke.
I loved cooking and all the garlicky foods. If I have a tiny piece of garlic for example, I'll be smelling it on my skin and in my breath for 3 days after.
A lot of habits have changed. Heat drives me nuts. I turn into an animal again..with even more strong sense of smells and very primate urges. Weird weird weird...Tbi.
I don't remember a single episode from the accident, but whenever I'm in a situation with too many impulses around (sudden sound, movement etc), my whole buddy freezes.
And all that causes such a heavy fatigue.
I hope this ever stops and I can be a normal 36 years old woman again and have enough patience for my kiddies and friends.
And people around don't get that. I still have a big scar on my forehead from the accident. But people think that's about it.

My boyfriend has had multiple concussions, the last of which was due to football. He hasn’t been the same since. His sense of smell and taste is at the point where he can really only identify things with a rich scent or smell. He takes longer to process things said than the average person does. It’s heartbreaking seeing someone change like that. His heart is set on football, it’s his passion. He loves it. But it doesn’t love him back.

Ten years ago a car ran a red stoplight and hit my SUV on the passenger side. The low hit flipped my SUV several times, spinning it like a toy top before it landed on all 4 wheels facing the opposite direction of where I was going. That was the day I should have died. Sometimes you get lucky. I walked away without a single cut or bruise. It never occurred to me that I had anything more than sore muscles. I was more concerned about picking up my daughter from school (I didn't know her name). A co-worker came to take me home,we stopped to get food and I noticed that it had no taste or smell. I got a call from the chiropractor office asking if I was bringing the kids in for their appointment. I explained about the accident & that I couldn't get there. Two minutes later the Chiropractor calls back, he is sending someone to get me. He does x-rays & compares with ones he took 2 months ago. Damage to C-1, C-2(Atlas,Axis. Brain stem), L-5,S-1 & tailbone.
He has known me for several years & said that I was behaving differently. I was stubborn & just wanted to go home,not to the ER.
Four months later I was still in constant back pain, not sleeping & assumed that was the reason why I couldn't remember things. I couldn't count, struggled with reading ,typing & writing. My taste in music used to be 80's pop or New Age meditation but now I was listening to hard-core rap & swearing constantly.
All emotional control was gone. It took 5 years of various doctors to piece together what was going on with me. I never thought that I was unconscious after the crash. Looking at 911 calls,police record,ambulance records shows 7-14 minutes that I can't recall. I never heard sirens.
Life is different now. The force of impact combined with the spinning caused many neurotransmitters to snap, others shifted so I get the wrong information. I drink a liquid but my brain tells me that it is "sawdust". I know that I have 2 younger siblings but have no memories of growing up with them. I can't identify female faces( including my daughter or my Mom). My quality of life will never be much more than what it is now. I require some adult supervision because I don't think to eat or drink. All parts of my brain were affected in some way but my family still loveds & supports me, even when I don't succeed. I'm 54 yrs old but behave like I am 20 sometimes. Just keep taking one day at a time. :)

I recently had a TBI from a fall on a segway reading this was like I wrote it I have had such a terrible time explaining to anyone what's going on 55 as well and feel like I have turned back to the 70's I am stimulated by bright colors I started creating art, had a change in music taste as well ..... my smell is 99.9% gone and taste is so cross-wired eating has become a chore, hearing is about 80% gone this is my 10 months since my accident. and it appears the old me is gone forever and I am really struggling. ON a good note my work an attention to detail and ability to learn and understand have increased two fold ..... I really miss the old me wished there was hope out there so I got hearing aids and everyday I struggle to find just a glimmer of the old me.

I feellike I am the odd ball out. Sense I hit my head I am the opposite of most of the people here and would give anything to have the lack of smell. Instead I got increased sense of smell to the point it is a point of annoying. I smell food three rooms over. My migraine triggers are often so easily triggered. My sense of hearing ..yeup that too.
My sense of taste is unaffected. My family cant cook foods half the time without windows open an me throwing up.

Hi I haven't felt like I wanted to end it all but I know how you feel. I had a series of TBI with severe bleeds resulting in total loss of smell and taste. I have continual dry eye and running nose.
I have had CT and MRIs which revealed nothing only the bleeds. This was 5yrs ago so I doubt it will come back now. It really gets me down but I have to make the best of it. Please ask for help nothing like this worth taking your life for. The fact you are talking about this shows you want and need some support. Speak to your partner or close friend and know that your not suffering alone. It's little consolation I know but we understand.

I had a brain injury for 5 years cannabis pure indica is the life saver. It helps with the big 4 - pain, insomnia, loss of appetite and depression I feel like I have been granted a second chance or a second life.

I don’t want to live anymore. Subdural and subarachnoid fractures have robbed me of my taste and sense of smell. Everything smells and tastes like rotten spoiled milk. I’ve lost weight. I’m always tired. No one understands. “That sucks” is all I get. I’m now actively planning to kill myself. So many doctors who don’t care. I have pain medication that will dull any last inhibitions. I just need a gun. Won’t do it at home or in my car. Don’t want to make it worse for my family. Can’t decide if I should just do it in the woods or an abandoned building. I’ll write a note so my family won’t worry when I don’t come home.

You are not alone- suicide just passes the pain to other people that will miss you when you’re gone. Never end the fight

I had a bad TBI 5 years ago My balance is still off my memory is poor but the worst is 25% of the time my food taste like rancid fish. That I can’t take

Hello. Please do not do this. Please know that your family loves you and cannot think of life with out you. My son has a Tramtic Brain Injury and thought of ending his life too. Actually tried 4 times. He is here today and living the best life he possibly can. He is a great listener. He would be happy to listen and chat with you. He knows your walk and your journey. Please let us help. amie@redheadbarrels.com

I have just read your comments that's so sad I had brain surgery for a tumour 6 years ago and have no taste or smell. I imagine flavours and this helps keep living for yourself it does get better over time and you learn to live with it. Immerse yourself in something wonderful and you will have something to live for. I had incredible tiredness it does go away with time.

I had a partial removal of a benign frontal brain tumor on 6/29/19. I have to have radiation in an attempt to shrink the rest. That is on hold right now because the incision site is not healing. It just seems that nothing can go right. Prior to surgery, I would smell smoke which wasn't there. Now I have an increase in odor detection, mostly foul smelling. I'm not so sure if the final outcome of this adventure. I don't have a positive attitude.

I can't relate to the pain you are going thru, but my husband is encountering the same hell since he had a concussion 2 months ago. The bad smell just started a few weeks ago and I think it's going to drive him insane. He tells me it is maddening. The only thing worse than being in your shoes is watching someone you love go thru the hell you're living and not being able to do a damn thing to make it better. I pray you will find relief and realize that killing yourself will only hurt the people who love you and rob you of the chance of getting better.

I understand how you feel back on April 15th of 2019 I feel I have a grade 3 concussion I had bleeding from my left ear fractured my inner ear had a gash on the back of my head I keep continually having severe headaches dizziness and feeling like I can't remember what I want to say I have a metallic taste in my mouth and my sense of smell is completely gone but you know you can live through this it's not worth giving up your life I have cravings for food that I always have loved and can't taste it now but I hope one day it will come back

I'm so sorry that you're going through this and that you don't feel understood. You may think you will never get through this. You may think life will never be the same again. You may think no one has ever experienced what it is that 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 a friend? If you’re not comfortable talking with them or feel they're unable to understand what it is that is making you feel there isn't hope, please reach 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 never remember having a sense of smell. I was in a car wreck at 2 months old that fractured my skull.
I've also never felt like I fit in anywhere. Could more damage to my brain have been done, that I was never told about?

My TBI was Dec. 2017. I just told my wife I was not feeling well and we started to walk back to the hotel when I fainted and fell to the ground. My fall was backwards onto a concrete floor. I was only out of a few seconds and able to get myself to my feet. My hit was hard enough to make small cut on the back of my head (No stiches). We were out of town during the accident and my wife drove us home the next day on a Sunday. That Monday I visited my Doctor who prescribed something for my nausea and dizziness as my sense of balance was off (which lasted for one maybe two weeks). The Doctor suggested an MRI which called for CT Scan. The resulted showed a mild contusion/concussion on the frontal lob. Eventually, my headache subsided and balance returned. What I'm most concerned about is my loss of smell and taste. I noted it with a few days of accident, but brushed it off to allergies. Well two years later no smell or taste. I, like others get the phantom smell/taste "metallic/aerosol/smoke". Being in the food industry this loss has greatly affected my work/career. I hope someday, we find a way to help regain what was loss. That said, I'm thankful my injury was not life threatening or paralyzing. So I'm grateful for that!

I appreciate this comment so much. I have lost so much of my sense of smell and taste, and I was unsure why this had happened. I had a bad sinus infection that required antibiotics at the same time that I had a fall at the gym. The fall could have been so damaging with broken bones. I felt that my head bouncing off the gym floor and producing a carpet burn strawberry and my glasses cutting the bridge of my nose was not significant. I blamed my smell and taste loss on the sinus infection and cataract surgery one week later. Now I fully believe my problems are from the fall. I plan to pursue this issue with my family doctor and possibly a specialist. Your comments also verified the phantom smells that coincide with this type of injury. I have a chronically occurring smell of a dirty litter box and more frequent headaches than before.

I fell and was told I hit my head. I was unconscious for several days. I was rushed to the ER that day I had a bleed in my brain. I don’t remember any of this. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks. I lost my sense of smell & short term memory. I don’t even remember being in the hospital. I was told I had to have a nurse in my room 24/7 because I was pulling my IN out and acting strange. Anyway I wish I could smell again but it has been 5 years now. I am grateful I did not suffer anymore things from my brain injury.

I came across this page while looking up some information for someone I heard had fallen some months ago. I understand that the person is having difficulty with smelling etc...

I don't know if anyone on this age has heard of a 3 Vol set of books entitled: Encyclopedia of foods and their healing power.

See what they look like and view the inside. They are great resource for various diseases, recipe and cookbook as they show the pros and cons of different foods and how they positively or negatively affect each body system.

(1) Video
https://youtu.be/m7mE4fDxxSw

(2) Video
https://youtu.be/ZApyVpjraCU

They can be very, very expensive depending on where you purchase them. However, if you search online used bookstores, ebay, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Thriftbooks, Better world etc... you can sometimes get them good used at bargain prices even under $10 and $20.

I had been driving a 2010 Volvo tractor and trailer for 2 months not knowing i was being poisoned bye carbon monoxide . Now the doctors are saying it's out of my blood but I still have a terrible smell in my nose all the time. Is this something to worry about and will it go away? Please let me know .

I'm so glad I came across this site! I had a concussion 4 years ago from which I still have some lasting effects. The change in my sense of smell didn't happen until about a year ago and it shocked me the first couple of times it happened. It's reassuring to know that other people experience the same thing. I'm thankful to see that concussions are being taken more seriously these days because they can sure have an impact on your life in ways that you'd never expect!

Oh my I have been searching all over the web. In Dec of 2017 I was in an auto accident where I was hit in the front. My blood pressure shot up to 197/159 right after the accident. I had a severe concussion. Then my blood pressure went up higher. A month later I experienced another bout of high blood pressure and balance issues and I went to the emergency room where they think I had a TIA. It was never diagnosed. But I had the symptoms. In April of 2017 I came down with a cold and my smell and taste completely went bye bye. In June I started to get distorted smells and taste. Some days I still get that. And I have not found anyone to help me with this. I have had horrible health care through this ordeal. If someone can direct me to get the proper tests done I would be forever grateful. I can taste Cilantro and Roasted garlic Hummus. That’s the extend of my taste. Go figure. I have to force myself to eat sometimes. Cooking is challenging. I don’t have the appetite and I can’t lose weight and believe me I am not tempted to eat sweets because why? I can’t accept that I will never be able to taste or smell again. I am not happy that everyone that is writing a comment on here has the same problem. I just want answers. I have seen two neurologist who told me this didn’t come from the auto accident. Hogwash.

Has anyone else had any "phantom" smells & an odd taste (like you licked the swing chain on the playground?) Haha - not that I ever licked the swings, but that's what made sense when I was trying to think of what my "taste" might be described.

Oh yes I have! Well with phantom smells and I COMPLETELY understand you comparing you taste to a swing! I’ve had a TBI almost 5 yrs ago and haven’t been able to smell or taste anything since. Well except for the phantom!!! When I try to explain my phantom smells to family, friends, I’ll say “it smells like rotten rust” or “skunk mixed with cigars and rotten food” I have no idea what that would actually smell like but that’s the only way to describe it! It’s very frustrating! Sometimes the phantom smells are so bad I feel like I can taste them! It’s definitely taken a toll on my quality of life! I am a hair stylist. I have clients asking me “which hair spray smells like watermelon” or every single day at least 20x/day I hear “omg that product (shampoo, gel, hairspray, etc) smells amazing!!! Instead of telling them I can’t smell I just agree with them and I really wish I could smell it!!! I know this may not help you. But you’re not alone!!! Good luck!

Yes I lost my sense of smell and taste a month ago from a bad car accident leading to a brain injury. I will get hints of smell and taste every once in awhile but very faint. The majority of it smells and tastes like some sort of dust. Very hard to explain but definitely unpleasant

Hi. I’ve had a loss of taste and smell off and on for 9 years. I occasionally get a phantom metallic smell in my nose, I also get a phantom fragrant smell when I blow my nose. I’m at my wits end with the loss of taste and smell it’s so depressing. I also think mine was originally related to taking too much ibuprofen but when I suggested this to my doctor he looked at me like I was nuts.

I had Severe TBI in 1996 caused by a car accident. I have phantom smells of cigarette smoke. The Dr. always told me it was a sinus thing. More importantly, I do have frontal lobe lesions and my taste has never been the same. I don’t enjoy food and cooking is a struggle because of my lack of smells which diminishes my taste. Eating is a chore. Some would think that’s great, but getting the nutrients needed is a battle.

I too get phantom smells. My taste isn’t completely gone but it’s as if everything isn’t as “rich” as it’s supposed to be. Old favorite foods are heartbreaking and the limited time bath bombs I was saving have become a sad reminder of what I’m missing. Perfume is only for others to enjoy and here’s hoping my BO doesn’t ever get out of hand haha. TBI was sustained in February this year.. I didn’t even hit the front part of my head but there’s a fair amount of blood from brain bleeds in the frontal region. So I’m hoping my sense of smell will return when my brain is supposed to reabsorb the blood naturally, however I’m increasingly dreading the reality that it most likely won’t.

Yes, I have phantom smells all day long. It's enough to drive me mad. They are unlike anything I have ever "smelled" before, so I can't really describe them to those who can smell.

I feel very isolated because of this. It's been over two years for me now.

Nobody I know has ever experienced these odd smells before so it's really hard to explain it when it happens. I totally understand how you're feeling Mitch. Recently I've started using scented oils in my house so that there is a pleasant fragrance to hopefully take the place of these Phantom smells.

Tish, exactly this: A swing chain! Thank you
I was searching tbi and metalic taste and found your comment. Perfect

I slipped on the ice and banged the back of my head several decades ago. I was discharged same day from hospital after brief checks. I was in bed for days with nausea and dizziness. I lost most of my sense of smell not straight away but soon after the fall. Only had about 20% left of this sense. This went on for over 10 years then I managed to regain 75% of sense of smell. It was such a subtle gradual return.

a year ago i was shot in the face and the bullet traveled threw my tounge and the roof of my mouth and then exited near my left eye.i now wear an obturator to plug in the hole in the roof of my mouth so i can talk normal,my issue is my smell and taste has been gone since this happened and i wanted to know is there any hope in regaining my sense of smell and taste.

I fell and it the back of my head on the tile. I have no recollection of icu or trama center and I have no smell and very limited taste.
I’m still alive and that’s all I care about. Although it’s a strange along with headaches that randomly come, make the best of it. Life is short and don’t dwell on the BS of sensory sensations.
That’s my two cents, so don’t read this wrong.

I'm quite surprised that only two people said they got it from a prescription drug. I bet that most people don't realize the possibilities because they trust their doctors too much like I did until they ruined me completely for life when it wasn't even necessary. Matter fact I bet alot of you lost your taste/smell as a result of the medications given you after initial treatment of the head injury. Of course I do believe that head injury can cause this by itself too but still, there is an entire community of people out there that are severely compromised by fluoroquinolone antibiotics like Cipro and Levaquin and Avelox among a few others. It was a slow death sentence for me, damage to the liver kidneys and bladder and I have a very debilitating condition called MCS. There are only a few chemicals in existence that can do this, one is mustard gas and then there are the antibiotics I mentioned and then there is roundup.

I know tons of people that have lost their sense of taste/smell simply by taking a course of these deadly antibiotics. It's very interesting that two of you have regained some after a blow to the head but it would be rough to try purposely finding the sweet spot to purposely bang your head but it's an idea. Spread the word that these antibiotics were designed as a last line when everything else fails but I was given Cipro to "rule out a bacterial infection". Well it ruled it out and it also ruled a decent life for me.

Not everyone is affected but doctors ignore the fact that a percentage of patients react poorly to just about anything so they should weigh out the risks and prescribe accordingly. It is now known taht people wo get permanently affected by these antibiotics all have genetic marker in common and there is technology now for doctors to screen you first. Good luck and spread the word. My life is over but if I can save a few people from the same fate I would be much happier.

I also have phantom smells, I think it smells like some kind of chemicals. Nobody around me understands. I had surgery for brain tumor and then radiation. Smells started shortly after. Now I have had horrible health effects diagnosis 10yrs. Later to much radiation.Nothing they can do, so living day to day. Horrible balance and mobility issues. So wish I had not had radiation. At that moment I thought dr knows best. I was traumatized after surgery I probably agreed to anything. People say I need get out more. I can't scared I fall all the time. This is not really living

I had a fall a month ago now where I hit the back of my head first on cement. It caused a left frontal lobe hemorage and I lost my sense of taste and smell. I was thinking it would just take a week or so to come back once the swelling was down, but now I’m worried it may not after reading some of these other stories.

I found out I had a pituitary brain tumor in 2014 an I had it removed January 2015 and they went thru my nose had to drill another hole in my skull. Well every since my surgery i lost all sense of smell and taste. The doctor said it should come back in 6-12 months but it never did. Is there any hope it might still come back over 4 yrs later? I've tried the medi pots to flush nose clean. To no avail. Food is tasting even worse as times go by. Is there any hope?

I fell 3 times banging my head on a tiled floor a week before Xmas due to my own stupidity of drinking too much since then I have no sense of smell or taste my left side of my brain feels numb and aches at night when I sleep on that side I have not had it checked out do you think I should ? X

I lost my sense of smell 18 years ago after falling off a boat on a ramp hit the back of my head !! I pray every day my smell will come back !! At least I didn’t go blind !! I can watch my kids grow, yes I have a difficult moment because of the loss of smell, my taste is great !! Maybe god willing I will regain at least some sense of smell good luck to all and remember never give up life is good !!

I slipped and fell at work and fractured my skull in two places and had a subdural and epidural hematoma. Bad constant headaches that continue today and no sense of smell or taste. This happened in October 2018.
Praying my headache goes away and my smell and taste return because who can have a appetite if you cannot enjoy the smell and taste of your food?

I had a similar head injury in 2010.
Loss my sence of smell and taste.
Sometimes i think I can smell soaps, shampoos,etc. Anything with water added,but its all the same smell.
Careful gaining weight like me.
I used to try all kinds of foods that I might be able to taste but still not and #s heavier.
I wish you the best in getting your senses back.

In 2012 j had a car accident ..head and brain injury..why have I lost my smell and taste now plus going throu an mri scan for almost an hour why have I not had my results!!!! Calls are getting fobbed of

I had a concussion with a broken skull and bruising on the brain four months ago. My sense of smell is completely gone as well as my taste. I have had a headache day and night since the accident, ringing on my left ear and it seems like my brain doesn’t work as well as before. Two months ago I started “smelling and tasting” something chemical ... a phantom smell. :(

Is there anything to get rid of it? It’s driving me crazy.

I had a mild concussion last Aug (walked into car bike rack) and hit front of head between eyes and nose.
Got vertigo from that. ER docs did not diagnose concussion. Only during eval with PT specialist (I was off balance from injury) was the mild concussion recognized -mainly by my symptoms.
Sometime later I started smelling something once in awhile. Couldn’t figure out. Had many theories , but just last week I wonder if I’m having phantom odor. Any one have thoughts about that? It also may be a disgrstivevproblem, but I’ve never smelled that odor before. Can’t find an external cause.

This is happening to me and has for yrs. I had a really bad injury to my head that has left me with lasting vertigo 7 yrs ago. The "smell taste" this is driving me nuts.

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