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.

I just currently fractured my skull, got brain hemorrhaging and brain bruising, I lost all sense of smell and taste and I’ve had a ringing in my ears (I’ve had a faint ringing for a while, as I was in the navy and worked on the flight deck of an air craft carrier, so I worked around a lot of loud planes) but it’s now actually starting to prevent me from falling asleep, or getting good sleep, my neck is very sore, and I haven’t been able to hold a meal down since I got into the hospital, not sure if these are common...

I would try Craniosacral therapy, massage and acupuncture

Did you try any of those and get results Heather?

I fractured my skull and ended up with damage to my frontal lobe in my brain. Weeks after, my walking was unbalanced and not fluid. I lost my hearing on the left, eye sight blurs, and cant drive at night. I smoked cigarettes for years before the accident. I didnt have the best of smell, or taste before, but since the accident I have a gas like smell and taste to everything. I stopped smoking, thing my smell would improve also. Tobacco is horrible for nerves and TBI. I had hypnosis to quit. Sweet, sour, spicy, salty and/or strong odors and taste are gone. Acidic flavors though are somewhat normal. Lemonade, orange juice brighten a dull day.

Massage has helped relax muscles. I can walk fluid now. I still get spasms, tightness, sore and unmotivated. Massage helps to get the nerves acting with the muscles. It's worth it. I have been my active self in recovery, but flushing out toxins and prednisone is important after. Water..water...water.

I just got referred for a cranial massage, and acupuncture. Our brains are amazing. No, no one knows anything about how your brain works in you. Different parts of the brain can function for other parts of the damaged brains function. All in all, the brain is the largest and strongest nerve in the body. Opening any pathway, by any means, could be crucial in someone's recovery and or acceptance. Dont lose hope, there are many of us with the same daily challenges. Good note: the ringing in the ear is less than my girlfriends snoring. Goodnight until the sun comes up, and I sleep through her alarm.

Sympathies with all of you. I had a subdural op at the end of October 2017. Sense of taste and smell have got worse since then. Didn't notice at first or I had too much on my mind. Everything else is up and running now, thank God. Good balance, fatigue not as bad, Due to start back to work at the beginning of next week.

Is it possible for a head injury to cause a person to regain their sense of smell? I completely lost my sense of smell four years ago after I took a medication and it never returned. I hit my head on the concrete two days ago and I have been able to smell everything.

I am recovering from a concussion that occurred 3 months ago. Now I have completely lost my sense of smell, -- But it has been replaced with what seems like a constant metallic smell, kind of musty, hot, or burnt-out smell.

I also had this after about 3 months slowly the taste weird smell or lack there of started to come back. I wouldn't say I'm 100% better but I did regain about 60% or slightly more back. Still have difficulty smelling flowers. I remedied my lack of taste with things that were really flavorful like feta cheese and hot wings being my favorites.

Have you found a cure? I got a concussion three months ago as well and haven’t been able to taste since then. Off and on here and there but barely. Sweet foods are soapy and cooked are metalicy and smoky burnt tasting . If you found anything let me know.

When I was very little, my brothers and I were having a snowball fight. Unknowingly, one of them picked up a clump of snow that was full of clay succulent pots. He threw it at my head. I passed out, went to the hospital, and ever since my sense of smell and taste has never been the same. Could this be a reason?

I got into a bad ATV accident and have 5 fractures to the skull and had bleeding. Everything is healing and bleeding is gone but I can not smell. They said my olfactory nerves were not damaged but maybe just stunned. Is there a chance that my smell will come back? If so how long does it take ?

Your story is the same as mine. I had seven fractures. Mine has not returned, but I hope and pray every day, even after 12 years.

I have for a year now been expiencing change in taste and smell some things like coffee and chocolate are so bad they make me heave.I have had 2 ct scans and an mri from ear nose and throat clinic and have now been discharged as they can find nothing wrong.I don't know what to do now every thing I eat has to be covered in hot spices or I can't eat it.

Well i had a head injury couple months ago and went to the doctor and i told them what happened but they really didn't examine my head and i still cant sell or taste really....how can i get some help with this problem???

My son also has freezing cold hands and feet after his severe TBI and his trauma surgeons told us that it is often a sign of severe neurological damage. It may or may not gradually get better. It is also accompanied with numbness or tingling or pain or loss of sensation or lack of mobility. The brain sure affects everything.

I hope very much for your sister. Personally I feel really blessed because I lost half my brain and sure to seizures occurring after 6 months my brain acclimated to fully be able to smell all toxic chemicals in the air since toxic air was the direct cause of many seizures. I lost 15 percent from the front so they called it 50 percent from the start. I was also having seizures from caffeine and reading. My advice is she may want to steer clear of caffeine because that was the cause of my first seizure. After that seizures just came for no reason. I now take generic keppra and that is a seizure pill that came out in 2005. I like the generic much better than the keppra or kepra. I lost my ability to smell my favorite perfume and body smells. I can't smell chlorine very much either. I don't care about the loss, I care about the gain. It took some years to gain the ability but I guess it wasn't long after taking levetricetam. I think that's how you smell the generic anti seizure medicine. Regardless, I was hurt over 11 years ago. I was able to smell toxic maybe about 6 years now. It's completely unheard of it seems that this could happen and its quite a mind boggler that no one else knows the danger of toxic. So many addicts out there make a strain on my day. I feel so blessed to smell toxic that I'll never change back with medicine. The side effects are horrendous. I hope your sister is okay. I was totally lucky to have a mom like mine because she told me what God did in his anger which put white hairs on my little head. This probably was the cause of the many miracles in my life. Thank and bless God daily because he's here and he sure is good. God bless kid! By the way, study all about toxic because lemme tell you, it is a horrible atrocity that so many are unprotected from the knowledge they're breathing it. Quite a shame! Like, it comes out of your pores. Like look up 2 words on Google. Toxic detector! Yeah, it exists as of last year. Knowledge is best of it's for a better people of the world. Later kid:) No fear, no worry!

Is the opposite a possibility? I wrecked my bike going 160 mph and cracked my skull a year ago and now my sense of smell seems much more sensitive.

I hit a deer @ 65 on mine about 6 weeks ago! The concussion symptoms did not hit me until a week later and they put me down far a week. Since then I have been cold and just recently I have had the taste and smell of smoke. All the broken, bruised, contused and road rash was nothing. The noise sensitivity, vertigo, crankiness, plugged left ear and smoke small are the real bad part for me! It seems we are all different! I hope you keep getting better. Reading these posts have helped me feel more normal and given me hope that it can go away...:)

I had a real bad concussion. Next month will be a year and I'm still dealing with the dizziness and vision but my main thing is I can't taste but I can smell.. can someone please help me with this issue.

Since I fell hitting the back of my head on ice and suffering from post concussive syndrome almost a month ago, I haven't felt hungry at all. When my husband tries to urge me to eat, food tastes foreign and I lose interest in eating. I'm still waiting for an appt at a TBI clinic to get a baseline on that and numerous differences I am experiencing.

I had the same thing happen to me over a year ago. It’s awful and discouraging. Also depressing. Have you found anything that helps?

I take issue with the doctor's comment that if your sense of taste and smell do not return a year post-TBI they never will. I lost my ability to smell and taste after my severe TBI, however, they did return about 2 years after my injury.

Thank you!!! TBI over a year now and still hoping for ANY recovery of taste or smell. Thanks for the hope!!! Be well.

That gives me a lot of Hope I had a traumatic brain injury it's been a year and I still have not gain my sense of smell and taste back but your statement gives me hope that maybe it will

I was in a roll-over car accident in 2010. My SUV bounced on its roof twice before landing upside down. The roof collapsed about 2-3 in, which was not bad for the weight of the vehicle, but it did impact my head on the top right side pushing it forward, down and to the left. I did not lose consciousness but had severe concussion symptoms.

Over the years one lingering symptom is the change in taste and smell, along with NO desire to cook or bake which I used to LOVE! There was about a year that I could not force myself to eat anything except peanut butter on toast. My daughter tried everything. I believe this was also caused in part by some psych meds I was given, because once I was taken off them I could eat small amount of other foods.

Recently, in the last year, I have increasing developed a better appetite, but still don't cook. If my daughter goes somewhere and doesn't have a meal made for me, I revert back to peanut butter and toast. (The bread must be toasted!)

I have been able to stay at my job through all of this with FMLA and LOTS of different therapies.

This Christmas (2014) was the first year I really felt like decorating and buying candles. I bought good quality "Balsam & Cedar" candles. Everyone else smells the balsam & cedar.  I smell cinnamon rolls, a good smell granted, but curious. I also bought a car air freshener of the same scent and the smell of cinnamon is very pleasant but does not make me hungry.

My boyfriend, age 50 was hit from behind on his tractor. He has a concussion, he stated his taste is not working, and now he says things "stink" unpleasant odors . Is this normal? Will he regain his taste and smell again?

I had the same, smelled burnt rubber at times for a year, now I kinda smell fabreze fragrance, beats the rubber. Have 80% taste, 10% smell.

Same.. it started with the burn smell & 4 months on it's now changed to a fabreeze smell . Everything tastes the same. Every juice drink is like drinking fabric conditioner. I can only relate to what I am drinking through it's texture.
I am very aware of sour , spicy , sugar & salt so have started to use allot more spices in my foods. I now drink gin & Ginger ale too as an alcoholic drink as it's the only drink that has any sort of taste.
I can not distinguish flavours , sents,bad & nice smells.
Sometimes I think I can smell something randomly but it's not always liked to whatever it is I am smelling. It's a bit like they is confusion in liking smells with certain things.
It's really hard to be honest to deal with. You don't realise how important smell and taste is until it's gone. I just want to be able to smell perfume again or a Yankee candle or have a nandos with flavour rather than just spice.
It's in gods hands.

I found this very interesting because I went through this about 20 years ago due to a brain injury. I had that burnt rubber smell for the first year and no taste. Gradually my taste returned but my smell is still mostly gone but I can smell certain lotions and minty stuff. I wonder what causes the burnt rubber smell?

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