Loss or changes to taste and smell may be caused by injury to the nasal passages, damage to the nerves in the nose and mouth, or injury to the brain itself. It is most common in more severe brain injuries, and if the effects are due to damage to the brain, recovery is rare. The effects are also reported by some people after minor head injuries, where recovery is more common.
Changes to taste and smell can affect appetite and eating in a number of ways:
It is very important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and below are some suggestions to help you do this.
It is important to note that some of these suggestions may not be suitable if you are experiencing difficulty with chewing, swallowing or choking and have been advised to eat a softer diet. Consult your GP, dietitian or speech and language therapist for further advice.
A good, balanced diet is essential for good health. NHS Choices provides excellent advice on this.
The ’Food Facts’ section of the British Dietetic Association website at www.bda.uk.com is also full of useful information.
All that is really required is to eat sensibly, choosing a range of foods in the correct proportions. Below are some suggestions to help you do this:
If you continue to experience difficulty adjusting your diet or have any other dietary concerns, such as diabetes or Coeliac disease, that make if difficult to vary the foods that you eat, discuss this with your GP.
You can ask your GP or other healthcare professional for an NHS referral to a registered dietitian, who can assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems.
Loss of sense of taste may make people likely to add too much salt or other flavourings, such as garlic or chillies. To avoid using too much salt try:
Loss of taste and smell can also affect the amount of fluids you drink, which may result in dehydration. It is also possible to have too much caffeine or sugar in hot drinks to try to make up for an impaired sense of taste.
Government recommendations are to drink 8 glasses (totalling about 1.5 – 2.5 litres) of fluid a day. This includes all drinks such as water, juice, tea, coffee, etc, but not alcoholic drinks, as alcohol dehydrates the body. If exercising heavily you will need to drink more than this.
You may have been advised to avoid alcohol because of your brain injury or any medications you are taking. If you are unsure, ask your GP.
This information is taken from our factsheet Loss of taste and smell after brain injury (PDF), which contains more information on living with this condition. You can download this below.
Contact the Headway helpline on 0808 800 2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss any of the issues covered here.
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