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 (179)

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.

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

I have the same thing happening right now. I lost taste and smell in July 2018 from a head injury and I have a constant burning smell that just started recently. I'm hoping it's everything starting to come back.

I had a TBI in January and lost my taste and smell apart from a very unpleasant taste and smell which I can't really describe and a nasal drip that makes me feel constantly sick. I struggle to eat because of this so feel very weak and shaky all the time. My memory is not the same and I repeat myself. I can sympathise with all of you and send you good luck.

If you are having bad headaches and the post nasal drip has a metallic taste you may want to be checked for a small tear causing spinal fluid leak since you did suffer trauma!!!

Ditto, hope you get better soon!

I suffered a TB.I when I was 28 and suffer with the same symptoms
I also get random smells that aren't pleasant and make me sick
Was wondering if it's a fandom smell and taste that I'm getting
The same that someone would get after losing a limb

Good luck all

Exactly what I experienced. Have not been able to taste or smell since September 2002. All of 2003, I was getting phantom smells and taste. It was terrible. I got very thin.

I was hit by a car in 1993, while I was standing in the road out of my car, after a car accident I’d just been in. I was in a coma for 6 months, and spent the next 5 and a half months in the hospital. Anyway, my sense of taste is just fine; but, as with my sense of smell, that gradually worsened down until now, that it is completely gone. I am thankful that I survived that car accident. God is truly wonderful!

For over ten weeks now I have no sense of smell and loss of taste too I have tryed home remedies but nothing seems to help. And I went to my GP he issues a prescription of anti biotics they not worked either it’s very frustrating I getting to the point not worth eating as I can’t taste a thing anyone recommend anything I can or should do ???

I fell down my steps 6 weeks ago and was diagnosed with an Occipital skull fracture and moderate concussion. After a day in hospital was released. Had a baseball size hematoma on my head. No MD would aspirate the blood clot between my skull and scalp. After 2nd day I noticed I lost my sense of smell and taste. I am an infusion RN and after the Hematoma exerted so much pressure my skin finally broke open and I was able to Express all the old blood out, irrigated with sterile saline and finally it formed a scab. My wounds are healed but I still have no sense of smell or taste. I don't smell anything or taste anything. I eat when my stomach growls till I am full but very frustrated. I love food. As a nurse I know loss of smell also causes loss of taste. I wish there was a study we could participate in...afterall they study everything these days. Please share, maybe as a population we can get someone to notice us. I don't want to live this way the rest of my life.

Hi..i lost my sense of smell and taste in early 2017. I thought it was a sinus problem and ignored it; i was actually glad i i was spared the smell of the diapers i had to change at work...by mid year, my eyesight began to fail in my right eye. Docs called for an MRI scan which revealed a big tumor growing in the middle of my skull. The tumors growth over many years had damaged the olfactory nerve permanently. Luckily, it was removed successfully but my sense of smell and taste hasn't returned since. I do smell new scents i have never smellt before, thankfully the smells are nice and appealing.

Some time has passed since you left tour comment, i am curious if the mystery of the loss of your sense of smell and taste has been solved.

If not, i would suggest an MRI scan.

With my recent TBI, I have no taste, smell and a smokey taste to me, in my mouth. All three are troublesome, the Smokey taste the worst.

I have this too have you over come it or is it back to normal? Ive been trying to find the answer or a way to get rid of that smokey taste and smell its annoying ive had it for 5 weeks now since injury.

Hi Charles - after a few months post-injury everything smelt and tasted like burnt coffee. Sorry to say that this lasted over 6 months only to be replaced by the smell and taste of fish. Two years on, I occasionally smell paint / chemicals. Some food types still don't taste as 'normal'. Mushrooms for example taste of fish. I got through the smokey phase by cutting out coffee and eating a lot of 'clean' foods like fruit and veg with no after-taste. Acupuncture also helped greatly in the early stages and I noticed a step-change in smell and taste. Best wishes

I have the same thing from a concussion in May. This happened weeks after my fall. My Dr. has me on zinc for over 3 weeks now and no change. He told me it takes time. It is a horrible feeling!

I've recently had a bad head fracture and swelling, really bad headaches have gone which Is so possitive, but my smell and taste is 0. It's driving me mad as a baker, and hoping to god Itl return. Please someone give me possitive answers. Thanks muchly. Cs

20 years ago I had a TBI. A skull fracture in the back of my skull which caused me to have a blood clot and stroke. Also causing my heart to stop. Luckily I was revived by medics. I also lost my smell and taste. I could only taste yeast. Not my favorite taste. After about a year it gradually came back. Now I do like a few tastes than I did before but I feel I am at 100%

I have read many stories on this site. I fell approx 11 months ago after a couple of blood vessels erupted in my head. The fall caused most of the damaged. When I fell the impact was severe on the left side of my head and they had to remove the right side of my skull as my brain was swollen greatly. I was in a coma for 3 weeks and in the hospital for 3-months. I was on many medications for approx 6 months including seizure medication.

Since my fall, I have lost my hearing in my left ear and lost my sense to smell and taste. All I smell and taste now is like a toxic or medical smell and taste. I am at a loss, no doctors seem to even be concerned, all they tell me is that I’m lucky to still be alive. But I don’t feel lucky, I can’t hear on my left side and all I hear is a ringing sound in the left of my head, I can’t smell or taste anything except for this terrible toxic like smell and taste. My life has become sad, it is emotionally killing me.

Nobody seems to want to help me or consider any tests to find out what the cause is for sure, and whether I will ever regain my taste and smell. I don’t know what to do and who to turn to. Like a few have said in the above blogs, this is not a life I want to live.

Can anybody tell me anything? Is there hope as I have lost all hope

I can only sympathise. Lost my taste 6 months after grand mal seizure on usual meds. But its no life. Am looking for answers too its been 2 yrs. now..

To anyone out there who has had a brain injury and lost their smell and taste and have been told that they are unlikely to get it back, please do not lose hope.

Back in 2010 I fainted and hit my head, fractured the back of my skull and had a bleed in the frontal lobe of my brain which caused me to lose both my sense of smell and taste. I was told by the doctors that I would never regain these senses. I was not willing to believe this and started researching the brain.

I found an excellent book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. It talks about neuroplasticity which means that parts of your brain can change their function to take on other functions. Therefore if the olfactory part of the brain gets damaged then other parts of your brain can learn to take on this function.

After reading this book, I spent the next year visualizing my brain making new connections and pathways and over that year I regained a small sense of smell and taste. Things didn't taste the same right away but it was a start and it proved to me that the doctors don't know everything.

Our bodies can heal themselves and our thoughts are more powerful than you can imagine. If you believe that all hope is lost, then it will be. Believe with all your heart that you have your taste back and let nature work out the details.

Another great book is Becoming Supernatural by Dr Joe Dispenza. He is a world leading expert in neuroscience and he healed himself from a spinal injury after doctors told him that he would unlikely walk again. Any book or video from Joe that you can get your hands on will change your life, not just your senses. If you can imagine that you have already got your senses back and can tap into what that feels like before you get them back then your body will go to work to make that happen. There is a part of us that is source energy, many call it God, but it is intelligent and can make anything happen. Joe has another book called Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. Great read. We create our own reality, our subconscious is so powerful and controls 95% of your life and how things play out for you and most people have no idea. 85% of your neural pathways are constructed between the ages of 0 - 8 years old and these are created based on experiences, memories and emotions that occur in this time. This creates our perceptions of the world and our personal reality. After 8 or 9 years old our lives are just a repeated pattern of the beliefs or perceptions from the past. This is why you are triggered by certain situations as an adult and it causes you to react like an 8-year-old child. This is your subconscious at work and the 8-year-old child is in charge.

Honestly, this work has blown my mind to the possibilities of what we can accomplish in our lives once we know the secret. Do yourselves a favor and get your hands on these books and take control back for yourselves. Don't believe everything you hear, your bodies can truly heal themselves. 8 years on and I have all my smell and taste back and life is great. Do not lose hope guys, you've got this!!!

Hi Dave I see you posted this a while back- I was wondering if your senses have improved at all. I can only imagine what you're going through. Have you tried changing your diet? A previous post from a lady said she went to clean foods and it still took some time but it improved. Our bodies are amazing, please dont give up. I just wanted to check on you.

I have a similar experience. Fell 20 feet down and hit the head. Loss of hearing in left ear, zero smell. But I can feel taste a little bit. It has been a year. But no sign of getting them back. Kind of sad.

Sadly I am in the same situation. I’m epileptic and had a seizure that caused my second TBI on the same spot (left temporal) I’ve only got about 15% hearing in left ear and even less sense of smell it also left me with permanent muscle spasms that are so strong they pull my #1 rib up to my neck about an inch compared to the left rib. It truly is hard to hear “you should consider yourself lucky” I know cause I’ve been told that at every doctor appt for 2 years now but even after it all (eg my coma,surgeries, loss of everything) I still believe I’ll make it

Did you ever figure out what to do about the toxic smell? I'm suffering like you are/did and it's horrible like you said. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

All my life I had a decreased sense of smell, but definitely had the ability to smell and differentiate things.

A few years back I fractured my skull and suffered a TBI. I had some excellent hospital care and after several days in the ICU was sent home for a month of bed rest. I wound up recovering well after that month and regained all normal functions. No lingering headaches, or complications that were immediately noticeable.

I then realized that my sense of smell had been lost completely. Even things I could smell clearly before I could no longer detect. I remember everyone freaking out over a skunk outside that had sprayed everything - I sat unaffected and never noticed a thing.

My sense of taste is still fully intact which is good because I can still appreciate a nice steak.

If loss of smell occurs 25% of the time, then why did my neurologist who oversaw my recovery from a TBI that I incurred in 1998 not answer any of my questions or seem to think my lack of olfactory perception was a real concern. Also, does sense of taste gradually disappear, over time?

My neurologist did a follow-up CAT in Nov 2017 after TBI in Sep 2017. Total anosmia. Explained little to nothing and offered no advise.

mine came back after about 1 year.

You so lucky bro can you tell me any treat help or just waiting.

My son was hit by a car and has a tbi, and he keeps telling me he doesnt taste anything or smell anything on top of everything else. Will he every be able to taste and smell again?

I'm 29 and I was slammed to the pavement by a vehicle about a year ago. The ER stated that I had no fractures but there was evidence of swelling as well as fluid behind my ear. Since the accident I've had to walk with a cane bc the earth is constantly shifting beneath my feet, i look drunk... I have memory issues and am constantly tired... I have also lost all hearing in my left ear, and everything has the same taste and the same smell of (what I can only describe as:) moldy, mildewy, burnt gym socks. It makes me sick. I've lost a bunch of weight bc everything grosses me out... I just want to know if I'll ever be able to smell my son again.. or anything meaningful for that matter? I haven't found a Dr. that can explain what is happening... Any words of wisdom..? or hope?

Same thing exactly is happening to me, no-one to reach it to, any advice?

I fractured my skull and concussed myself in 3 areas of my head/brain last April. My sense of taste and smell didn't change until 4 months post my fall. Your description of how things smell and taste is spot On! I have described it as smelling like wet dog food and diarrhea mixed together. My favorite things now smell and taste like sh@! Doctor isn't concerned, but I am! This is going on 8 months now. If i can't enjoy the simple pleasures of life, I don't want to continue living like this. Is there help? Hope?

I fell onto stamped cement from ladder trying to paint, i fractured right back side of skull, broke some right ear bled from head and from inside of ear, bled in brain, injured right elbow... i was in icu woke up third day, i was in hopsitals for 2.5 weeks, i could not taste or smell, or walk well and vision is screwed like illusionary and blah blah blah!! It feels like someone has a helium balloon blown up in my head and my right ear feel closed and it’s a pain. My appetite is different, my eating is way different, i lost 35lbs and not on purpose, i have a salty burning taste now it’s overwhelming, my smell sucks, i can hardly smell!!! My hit scar where i fractured can hurt like salt and pepper in a fresh wound!! No help or advice to improve fro
ANY DOC!! Grief has come about because I live my life different , I have to. It’s something i have to accept and i read all of these and i feel for u all!!! My fall happneded 5 months ago! And I’ve improved because i was told i was fortunate not have died from my fall the way it happened and what it did!! My taste is overwhelming, my smelll is near gone forever, my vision is different and ahhh i can’t wright with right hand (if i do it looks like 1st grade) and ringing in the ear well it’s loud lol!! But honestly I feel for u all!!

I fell of a boat 18 years ago I still don’t have smell , though sometimes I feel like burning in my nose and the feeling that it may come back! No luck I’ve done research and they are in clinical trials and on animals to fix TBI lose of smell !! I pray everyday and that’s all I can do!! God will it will come back !! It never is easy but over time you learn to deal with it !! Hang in there to all of you !! At least I can still see !! And watching my kids grow and gives me joy !! During the down time becouse I wish I can smell again one day !!

On july 8th of 2017 i fell and hit my head on the concrete. When i went to the hospital they did a CT scan and found a fracture on the back of my skull along with bleeding and swelling in the occipital area of my brain. I had bleeding on the left side of my head into the ear which caused a temporary loss if hearing. I was transported to another hospital and placed in ICU. After a week i was released and realized i had no sense of taste and smell. After a few more days things changed but only for the worse. Some Things I can't smell at all and other things such as what should be pleasant smells smell horrible to me. Everything I eat is disgusting. I have no enjoyment in eating not even my favorite foods. I have been to a neurologist, neurosurgeon, family physician, and 2 ENTs as well as Cleveland clinic and no one can figure out what happened, let alone even try to help me. It has been a little over a year now and I can't fathom living the rest of my life like this. When I eat it is such a disappointment that sometimes I cry when I see other people enjoying with they are eating. I am completely frustrated and depressed. Is there any one that can help me. I feel like the doctors don't even care. If it was my eyesight they would look further into it but because it's my smell and taste no one gives it a second thought.

I had TBI about 18 months ago, I got run over by a car. My taste is weak, distorted or not there. The neurologist said there is nothing they can do, So I have been trying to stimulate damaged nerves and brain by trying to eat food that has strong flavors. The idea is that the strong flavors might help trigger the taste pathways in your brain and the nerve damage. Eating things like raw chilies, ginger, pepper, peppermint, etc. anything really strong. Over the last year, I have had mild improvement. Bear in mind this is just an experiment. There is no guarantee or proof that it will work. Its worth a try though I think. The neurologist said it might work.

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