Changes in Taste and Smell After Brain Injury

Changes in taste and smell after a brain injury are not unusual. When you think about it, if you have nasal congestion, that's when you are not able to taste your food so well. And it's really changes in smell that's causing those changes in taste. The olfactory nerve, which is one of the cranial nerves that comes out of the frontal lobe of your brain, is a very thin little nerve that comes through a very hard bony plate called the cribriform plate. As that little thin wispy nerve passes through the cribriform plate, it's at very high risk of injury, and after traumatic brain injury, probably 25% plus at the time, you see injury to that nerve. If we're going to see recovery of that, it's generally seen in the first 6 to 12 months. Unfortunately, there are some people who never have full recovery of their taste or smell. With regard to treatment, there are really no known treatments that are effective in recovering taste and smell. What I do recommend to some of my patients who just have diminishment in their taste or smell, is to eat foods that have richer tastes and to put more spices in their foods just so that they can create a little more enjoyment out of the food that they had.

I had a concussion about three months ago and now my food doesn’t taste as good. My sense of smell seems different, too. Are these changes related to my brain injury and, if so, is there anything I can do about it?

Brian Greenwald

Dr. Brian Greenwald is medical director of Center for Head Injuries and the associate medical director of JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. He is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Posted on BrainLine August 30, 2011.

Comments (20)

Last February I had problems with my ear feeling like it had fluid in it, I was physically drained all I could do us sleep... I was on 3 different antibiotics nothing helped .. I have lost most of my smell and taste... some things smell burnt! I can taste a little bit of things with red sauces... really sweet and salty things but nothing in between. Ranch dressing for instance has no flavor peanut butter doesn’t taste good... it’s awful! And very frustrating!! I make extra strong coffee so I can taste it! I was told same thing if you cannot smell you cannot taste! If it doesn’t come back in a year it probably won’t! To think I may have to live like this forever is very upsetting!! The small things we take for granted!!

2 years and 2 months ago I had a benign pituitary tumor removed and damaged my adrenal gland, too. I do not smell or taste anything. I made microwave popcorn for company and didn't know it was burning. They all looked at me like "can't you read directions? Be more careful."

Also, didn't have my hearing aids in (beaten up) when the fire alarm goes off in my building -- often -- I call the fire dept and tell them I am unable to smell anything but they send the trucks. They understand. It terrifies me!

My neurologist had no "reasons why this happened" and taste and smell will never return. I can tell salty by how "hot" my tongue reacting. I have been to the Cleveland clinic and surgery was at the university hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

I eat one meal a week and live on rice pudding because it is cool (summer). I eat due to the alternative of starving to death. My meal is scrambled eggs over hash browns (restaurant). When asked, "doesn't that smell good?" I say, "Yes" so not to feel sooo weird. In winter I make myself oatmeal. I have no memory of tastes.

,"DOESN'T THAT SMELL GOOD?" I SAY , "YES".....SO NOT TO FEEL SOOO WEIRD". WINTER I MAKE MYSELF OATMEAL. I HAVE NO MEMORY OF TASTES.

I lost my smell and taste, it's been since January with the exception of May and June ( I could taste and smell pretty much normal). I have no idea what has caused this. I just came home from having MRI hopefully my ENT will find the reason. I Am severely depressed and feeling very alone. Family and friends are sympathetic but can't possibly know how this affects your quality of life. How do you cope with this? Hopefully you can give me some advice. Thank You,

I had a TBI in May of 2018 and loss my sense of smell. Now here in the last couple of days all I think I can "smell" is burnt coffee. Does this mean my sense of smell is coming back to me or something else??

My issues are the opposite from the comments I've seen. My sense of smell is much stronger. I suffered 2 hemorrhagic strokes from trauma in vehicle accident (caused by an uninsured drunk driver) 15 months ago. My sense of smell was much stronger right after the crash than it is today, but it still has an intensity that often triggers nausea. I have non-stop headaches on the right side, and I experience problems with vision, hearing, and balance. I also have comprehension and reading issues as my eyes are not tracking correctly (therapists words). I'm on an emotional rollercoaster that tends to result in embarrassing verbal outbursts. Additionally the left side of my body is much weaker than the right side. My increased sense of smell has not been explained by any of the doctors I've seen. Anybody able to explain this condition?

I lost my sense of taste and smell over 30 yrs ago from a head injury. I've also loss a lot of other health related things as well. At first it didn't bother me but lately I just eat because I'm hungry. I want to eat but don't know what to eat since I don't know what that food might taste like. When I do eat most of the times it's not pleasing to me. I won't finish my food. I love sweets since I can taste the sugar but I can't tell what i'm eating. It's getting worst for me and I was just wandering if it will get any worst than what i am experiencing now. There still are some food that i'll eat but lately I don't know what to eat since I can't taste what i'm eating and nothing looks appealing to me.

I am not a doctor but I would highly recommend you try a good quality B complex. It may help your nerve repair itself.

Hi, I also lost my taste & smell after a motorcycle accident on dated 9th April 2014 and still, i don't have any improvement now anyone can give me advice for the treatment. Thank You.

I lost my smell about 12 yrs.ago I think due to hitting my head to many times on construction sites . The doctors say that a membrane in the front of my head between my eyes was severed , nothing can be done . Problem is I can't smell propane, gasoline or crap or anything else but I can taste things sweet, sour and some perfumes slightly . I eat by texture and memory, no big deal I still enjoy eating (lots of tabasco) and if that's all the problem I have in my life I'm good . It's just the danger of not smelling gas, propane etc.

I was in a motorcycle accident October 2nd and had a total loss in smell and lost most of my taste. In the past two weeks, however, I have this weird, unreachable taste/smell stuck in my head where everything that has any strong smell, smells this way and 90% of my food tastes like the smell, which is disgusting. I’m hoping that this is a sign that it’s coming back to me, but I haven’t found anything online describing similar symptoms. Have any of you experienced this? Is it a good sign?

I had a frontal lobe contusion about 15 years ago. I know exactly what you are talking about. Some weird smell that lingers wiht you for hours and all of a sudden anything I eat "tastes" just like that smell. No good and I hate to say it but not a good sign as this still happens to me after all these years since the accident. Funny you mention perfume, I can smell perfume from a mile away even when others can't and the smell sticks with me for hours. But I can have bacon right in front of me and not smell it, no fair!!!

I hit my head when I was thrown to the ground in a parking lot from a slow-moving vehicle, about a year ago. At first, I had absolutely no sense of smell or taste, loss of hearing in one ear and couldn't walk without a cane (or I'd fall). Within the next few months, everything tasted and smelled relatively the same but was so nasty. I describe it like old musty, mildew-y, pungent, burnt, cheap rubber. It's been a year and I'vee learned the slight difference between things like sweet, salty, spicy, tart etc. But everything grosses out. All perfume and sprays smell like a cheap baby powder. I still can't identify one taste or smell from another but can categorize most things, if that makes sense? Vehicle oil and something melting or catching fire all smell the same. This terrifies me honestly. I don't have much hope of ever healing at this point and it's extremely depressing...

Hi Nick,
I had the exact same thing happen after my TBI 5 years ago. Lost my sense of smell due to shearing of nerve. Then the sense of weird taste/smells like I'd never experienced before and couldn't quite explain. I came to learn I was having temporal lobe seizures and soon thereafter had my first full absence seizure. I began taking topamax and they are fully under control now.

I have read that strange tastes and smells are a symptom of sensory overload. I have had it happen a few times usually when fatigued. often it is an organic smell. fortunately I don't find it unpleasantness.

my question is why can't I smell or taste anything after a brain aneurysm surgery? Before surgery no problems with smell or taste. It's been almost 5 months now can't smell gasoline or fire

I have the same problem. TBI two months ago. I'm tired of forcing myself to eat.

Just wondering if you are still not having any sense of smell or taste post TBI? My TBI occurred on 9/27/2017 when I fell when going to turn off a light switch. I have literally no sense of smell...can't even smell strong cologne or perfume, could not smell Thanksgiving day food cooking inside my house all day.....and no sense of taste or only metallic taste if anything (possibly from the Keppra they started me on). It has been two months - I am scared it is never going to come back!!!

Linda I'm curious if you recovered your taste and smell.

Did the taste and smell come back?

About a month-and-a-half ago I had brain surgery they removed my left temporal lobe. Since I have been in my twenties I started having partial complex seizures. I went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with a benign brain tumor (left temporal) will all the problems that I have been having with my memory start to get better or just not get any worse. My family has realized for several years now that my memory has gotten a lot worse. I am very much a loner and there's just a lot of things I do not know. Could you help me with some information. It would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Sharon