Loss of taste and smell after head injury is often overlooked by doctors. However, while losing your sense of smell might not sound serious, for people with severe taste and smell disorders, it can cause weight loss and impaired quality of life.
Today’s article will explain what causes loss of smell and taste after TBI. It will also show you what you can do to cope with these traumatic brain injury side effects.
Let’s get started.
Causes of Loss of Taste and Smell After Head Injury
Your senses of taste and smell are deeply connected to each other. In fact, taste buds in the mouth only sense basic tastes; it’s your nose that augments your taste buds and allows you to taste a full spectrum of flavors.
That explains why most people report losing both their sense of smell and taste after a head injury and not just one or the other.
Therefore, if your brain injury or concussion damages the parts of the brain that control smell, you will lose a significant amount of your tasting abilities as well.
Other causes of smell and taste loss include:
- Damage to the olfactory nerves in the nose
- Blocked nasal cavity
Areas of the Brain That Control Smell and Taste
The chances of losing your sense of taste and smell after brain injury could be influenced by the area of the brain that was affected.
There are three primary areas of the brain that control your sense of smell:
- The orbitofrontal cortex, located above and behind the eyes.
- The insula, which lies beneath the ears.
- The piriform cortex, located between the other two.
Besides these three areas, there are smaller brain regions that also play a part in smell. These are collectively called the olfactory regions.
Interestingly, the olfactory bulb, located behind the eyes, connects to the amygdala, the part of the brain in charge of emotions and personal memories.
This explains why some smells can trigger vivid childhood memories in people.
Disorders of Taste and Smell After Head Injury
Not all smell and taste problems are identical. In fact, a head injury can cause a variety of smell and taste disorders.
Some disorders of smell include:
- Anosmia: Total loss of smell
- Hyposmia Partial loss of smell
- Hyperosmia: Enhanced sense of smell
- Phantosmia: False or imaginary smells
- Dysosmia: Distortion of smells
When a person suffers from dysosmia, sour milk might smell fresh to them, or fresh flowers might smell rotten and dead.
In addition to smell disorders, there are multiple disorders of taste, such as:
- Ageusia. Total loss of taste.
- Dysgeusia. Distortion of taste.
- Parageusia. Tasting a bad taste in your mouth.
- Dysgensia. Persistent, strange taste.
Treating Disorders of Taste and Smell After Head Injury
Losing your taste and smell after a head injury or concussion can be a serious problem. One patient had such severe distortions of taste and smell that he could no longer eat solid food and had to be fed through a g-tube.
While you most likely will experience nothing that extreme, losing these senses can decrease your appetite. Eventually, this could lead to weight loss and decreased muscle mass.
So what can you do to treat these disorders?
Some medications, such as Gabapentin, have successfully treated people who experience bad tastes and smells after a head injury.
As far as treating total smell loss (anosmia) goes, there are not as many options, unfortunately.
If brain damage has caused your anosmia, olfactory training may help.
Olfactory training involves aromatherapy with strong scents such as roses, eucalyptus, and lemon. This stimulates the olfactory nerves in the nose to retrain the brain to detect smells.
However, it only has about a 30 percent success rate for people with brain injuries.
Otherwise, all you can do is wait to see if the olfactory regions heal on their own. If they do, you should notice your sense of smell return within six months.
It’s also possible, however, that your smell loss is a result of damage to your nasal passages. If that’s the case, your anosmia is much more treatable.
Coping with Loss of Taste and Smell After Head Injury
If your sense of smell never returns, you will need to learn ways to live with only half your senses. This will be hard, but it’s not impossible.
Here are a few tips to help you cope with the loss of taste and smell after head injury.
- Try ice cube stimulation. Some patients report that sucking on an ice cube for one minute before a meal helped improve their sense of taste. In particular, it restored their ability to taste sweet foods. While more studies are needed to understand why this happens, it might be something worth trying.
- Use seeds and nuts to add texture. This can help your meals seem a little less bland.
- Throw out expired food. It’s important to throw out food as soon as it hits the expiration date since you won’t be able to tell when it goes bad.
- Install smoke and gas detectors. This is crucial, especially if you live alone.
- Use flavor enhancers. If your sense of taste is not totally absent, it might help to use flavor enhancers such as peppers to make your meals more appealing.
While living without your sense of smell and taste can be frustrating, these methods should help make things more manageable.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about anosmia as soon as you notice it. New treatments for anosmia are on the rise, and your doctor might know of some that will help you.