Loss of taste & smell after a brain injury
Following a brain injury many people report
that their senses of taste and/or smell have been affected.
The two senses can both be affected in a number of different
ways, and are both connected particularly when it comes to taste -
the taste buds in our mouth only provide a basic sense of taste and
it is our ability to smell that greatly broadens our sense of
In cases of traumatic brain injury, there may be damage to the
nasal passages or the nerves in the nose and mouth, but it is quite
common for the brain itself to be injured. The area of the brain
responsible for these senses sits on top of bony protusions within
the skull and they can be damaged during trauma to the
There are no treatments available for loss of taste and smell,
so this fact sheet will provide practical suggestions on ways to
compensate for loss of taste and smell.
Disorders of taste & smell
Due to the complexity of the brain, our senses can be affected
in many ways. Here are some of the terms used for disorders of
- Anosmia: total loss of sense of smell
- Hyposmia: partial loss of sense of smell
- Hyperosmia: enhanced sensitivity to odours
- Phantosmia/parosmia: 'false' smells
- Dysosmia: distortion in odour perception.
Here are some of the terms used for disorders of
- Ageusia: total loss of sense of taste
- Dysgeusia: distortion or decrease in taste
- Parageusia: perceiving a bad taste in the mouth
- Dysgensia: persistent abnormal taste.
Practical ways to compensate for loss of
The smell of food stimulates the appetite, so loss of smell can
lead to reduced appetite and lower production of saliva. Altered
taste may make certain foods unpleasant but it should still be
possible to have a healthy diet. There can be a tendency to focus
on food with a lot of sugar, salt or fat to try and compensate for
diminished taste but there are healthy ways to
- Be imaginative and use varied colours and textures
- Under-cook vegetables so that they are crunchy and have
- Use seeds, nuts, wholegrain cereals and beans to add
- Add bacon bits or strong cheese such as parmesan to a meal
- Experiment with herbs, spices, vinegar and pickles for
- Serve hot and cold foods together e.g. ice cream with hot
- Make meals a social time with friends and family
- Use a cookbook and try new and interesting recipes.
Consult your doctor, dietitian or speech therapist for
Health, safety & hygiene
Diminished smell can result in safety issues. Here are some
- Fit a smoke alarms in your house
- Have electrical appliances regularly serviced
- Remove electric plugs when not in use
- Use an alarm to remind you of food cooking in the oven
- Have gas appliances regularly serviced and fit a gas
- Always eat or throw out food by its 'use by' date
- Keep products like bleach and solvents in their original
- Empty rubbish bins regularly and keep the toilet and kitchen
- Ensure you shower or bath daily and use a deodorant
- Wash your clothes and bed linen regularly
- Brush and floss your teeth every day
- Visit the dentist regularly
- Follow manufacturer's advice when using products such as paint,
cleaning products and solvents.
Other possible causes for loss of taste or
It is worth consulting with a GP to find out whether there could
be any medical reasons other than brain injury for changes to taste
and smell. This is especially important if the symptoms haven't
been noticed until some time after the injury.
Some medication can also affect the sense of taste. It is worth
consulting the doctor to see whether the symptoms could be a
side-effect of any medication being taken.
If a compensation claim is being made, make sure that the
effects on taste and smell are covered in the claim, as they could
add several thousand dollars to the money awarded.
References and further information
Daisley, A., Tams, R. and Kischka, U. (2009), Head Injury: The
Facts, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Powell, T. (1994) Head Injury: A Practical Guide, Speechmark
Publishing Ltd, Bicester.
Wrightson, P. & Gronwall, D. (1999), Mild Head Injury: A
Guide to Management, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
This article is reproduced from Headway - the brain injury
association with the permission. This is a charity in the
United Kingdom offering support to people affected by brain injury
through rehabilitation programs, carer support, training, social
re-integration, information, advocacy, community outreach and
respite care. Visit the website for great resources available for