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 (166)

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'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.

That is the attitude to work towards. At some point, have to move forward instead of destroying yourself by developing different thinking. Mind control.

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?

Taste buds are replaced all the time generally maximum ten days but every five to seven years there is a massive changeover of your taste buds. That's why you hate Vegetables as a child but dont mind them later someone might hate mustard then out of nowhere start liking it so there is a chance when you get a major change in replacement tastebuds you might notice hey they are coming back. My taste buds and sense of smell comes and goes. Because I also had a whiplash and concussion and was avoiding pain meds I was rubbing organic peppermint oil on the back of my neck and shoulder area. Noticed it was helping to wake up my sense of smell at times but have to be careful get it near eyes or face can burn and can damage eyes severely so I'd make sure after putting it on my neck to wash my hands right away you can accidentally forget and rub your eyes. Remember its medicine dont think its organic natural and safe be cautious with it. Get it in your eyes you can burn them loose them. Anyways it relieves spasms and deadens pain for a few hours beautifully. Good luck to you.

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?

With my concussion had all the symptoms that seems to be the norm vision ringing in the ears balance fatigue in tears for no reason couldn't stand noise movement tv cell phone loved a dark room laying in bed no movement with a damp towel covering eyes. One day came downstairs and my wife was cleaning the stainless steel sink. I asked her what she was doing she said cleaning the sink with bleach. I said no way I would smell it then grabbed the bottle on the counter smelled it and said to her this is water it's not bleach and she said its bleach and went to smell it again and she grabbed it from me and said your not suppose to smell bleach you'll do damage to yourself. Then I realized I had lost my sense of smell. Now my neck from my injury was tender but hoped the discomfort would go away and with a concussion and all the nastiness going on with it my neck was low on the list with me. Remembering what day it was or standing without being nauseous in physiotherapiy someone pulled a curtain in front of me with dots on it and I almost through up so a little discomfort in the neck no big deal. I was in the middle of living with dementia and alzheimers anyways woke up one day with neck in full blown spasms trigger points all over waves of pain going across forhead shooting from back of head. Had physiotherapy appointment every day so when I went told physiotherapist please my neck is bad gone from level two to eight please look at it. I lie down shirt off face down next thing I know she is inserting needles acupuncture as each trigger point releases it hurts like crazy but then helps six needles later I hear her say you have a bad whiplash a few more needles than she presses on a trigger point at the base of the skull in the centre where your spine joins your skull agony I arch up then blackout maybe a couple of minutes wake up headache gone neck pain gone feel wide awake amazing. Now I still have to get accuputure two years later cause neck is still not the best goes into spasm the sternalcledo mastoid anyways the acupuncture releases horrmones enpholyns endorphins anyways helped to restore my smell not perfect and my taste buds are perfect but have some. Now I recently looked up acupuncture for regaining sense of smell and they have lots of documentation about it and you know it's not some dam chemical with side effects that hurt you so give it a try what do you have to lose. Pharmaceutical companies and medical doctors dont like it because medication is an endless gravy train with side effects . Acupuncture they say even causes the body's immune system to function better cortisone is released into joints it's a natural pain killer so what restores better rhythm in your system interconnects to the brain to maybe help restore hormone and chemical balance which maybe what triggers senses like smell taste eyes oh yea I have a dropping eyelid that droops less for a day or two after and your eyes are wide open anyways look it up nothing to loose to try it. Just get a good acupuncturist. I have one that says no pain no gain it hurts when it releases but feels amazing afterwards. You also feel more clear headed for a couple of days at least.

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 am not a doctor. But look into your pituitary gland its behind your sinuses. It secretes hormones if damaged or under pressure might be doing this also if pressing on optic chiasm effects vision suprachiasmatic nucleus effects your body's circadian rhythm clock by communicating to your pineal gland to release melatonin to get you to sleep. Basically informs your body when its day and night. I have had a concussion my problem is same symptoms as most but now I also absorbed information and my head puts puzzles of information together. The pituitary gland is pea sized but if it's not working right can effect a lot of your symptoms. Look up the words for yourself. They will treat symptoms not look for causes. Have blurry vision in one eye fatigue nauseous maybe a drooping eye lid light bothering you noise how is the smell and taste buds. Unbalanced hormones coming from pituitary gland can leave you feeling cold at times also.

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.

On feb 2016 I fell and banged my head and the side of my neck, I was taken to a&e where I was discharged 3 hours. It was about 3 weeks before I full recovered but I noticed a small change I my taste buds, but in December the same year I got a very bad cold which took 2 lots of antibiotics to clear it. When I was at the end of my second lot of tablets I sneezed and to my shock what I sneezed up was as thick as clear silicone and very sticky . After this cool my sense of taste and smell took a new direction, I can still smell and taste but everything smells and tastes awful and I am get to a stage where I don’t want to eat . I am seeing ent and I have been on flexonase massless drops for three months and he sent me fo a ct scan so I am going back for the results in January 2019 but don’t hold out much hope

I suffered a head injury about 6 years ago in which my skull was fractured and damaged my frontal lobe, specifically the motor and sensory cortices.

Ever since, I've constantly felt like I'm in a moving vehicle (motion sickness), but my sense of smell didn't diminish. It amplified and made me much more sensitive to smell and taste. I've been hallucinating the smell of coca cola ever since I accidentally hit my head on the car door frame this morning. Another common phantom smell is chocolate, or onions. Days where it's onions are really bad and I usually can't eat those days.

It's always morbidly interesting to see how this stuff affects other people. I hope your sister recovers. ):

I lost my snse of smell after fall dawn on the floor last year nowadays i can feel the odour of smoke and burning things and also the smell of perfumes but i can't differenciat in bad and good odour.
Is it the process of smell recovery .
Will it be improve or not.

Unfortunately i am unable to answer your question . Because i am here looking for the same answer. I now have a brain injury due to a car incident. Since then i am now having the same case as you . Can sense odor but unable to tell what the odor is exactly . Just thought i should share . God bless you Dear !

I was hit by a car as a pedestrian in March 2018 and was unconscious for less than 30 mins (as I was told) and have a TBI. My headaches decreased since then, but I have lost my sense of smell completely. My taste is definitely not where it was before, but it is slowly coming back. I feel like I am so lucky as it could have been worse but I still am so sad to "miss" out on things in life, not to mention the danger aspect. Will I ever get my smell back.? :(

I had TBI at 22 yrs old.  I lost 100% taste & smell for 7yrs. Then one day... I smelled a rose on a bush while sitting on a porch. I gained a lot of taste & smell back. Not always distinct (with eyes closed) but I can taste & smell now. But not gas/air smells. But when my brain says "DANGER!" I go find someone to tell me the smell.. propane? burning rubber? etc. But I have enjoyed food tastes & smells..which adds a lot to life & safety.

I have the same problem with furnace heat smell.I smell like something is burning and like diesel.
I had skull fracture 10 years ago.

Same thing with me! I had a TBI in 2007. I lost my smell and taste completely. I gradually got my taste back over time, mind you it was rough because everything tasted awful. After approx 5yrs I started to be able to smell horrible smells like gases etc. Well here we are in 2018 and over tbe last 6-8 months my smell has returned and full force. I smell better than anyone i know. It's amazing! Downfall I ambow super sensitive to candles and other string smells, they made me sick and I can literally taste the smells. But, I'll take it because I can smell!! 11yrs later, what are the odds of that!? The brain is a crazy thing!

Thanks for giving me hope that I would one day be able to smell again. I lost my sense is smell over three years ago and have been depressed ever since. Thanks to you after reading your post, I will definitely keep hope alive.

I too lost my sense of taste 2 yrs. Now I pray every day it will return. Had a grand mal seizure, busted my shoulder. Neuro has done usual tests but no answers. Makes you miserable. I understand you. I thought I was alone. Pray together.

I had a head trauma last year causing me to lose my sense of smell. Over the last couple of weeks I have a burning smell constantly in my nose. Could this be my sense of smell returning?

I had the same thing tbi in 2008 where now in 2018 and i still cant smell. But i do remember that burning smell after i got out of hospital. Can you smell now ? Maan i hope it comes back

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