Sensory Changes

The brain is the center for all five of our senses: sight (or vision), hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

When the brain is injured, any one of these senses may be affected. For example, a person may lose their sense of smell, or may have partial hearing loss. The location of the brain injury and how severe the injury is will determine which, if any, of the five senses may be impaired.

Discussing the sensory changes and the severity of symptoms with your healthcare provider will help you assess the likely causes and treatment options. For some sensory changes, interventions like physical or occupational therapy may improve the symptoms. In other cases, education about symptoms and focused therapies will result in improved functional outcomes.

What might you see?

  • Vision changes, such as blurry vision, double vision, decreased vision, or sensitivity to light
  • Hearing changes, including muffled hearing or ringing in the ears (this is known as tinnitus) — in one or both ears
  • Changes in taste and smell (for example, a complete lack of taste and smell, an altered taste, such as a metallic flavor in the mouth, or a decreased ability to smell)

How can you help?

  • Reinforce wearing an eye patch or special glasses if ordered for double vision.
  • Avoid or decrease alcohol consumption. It may increase sensitivity to light and noise.
  • Seek professional advice about whether or not it is safe for the service member or veteran to drive, especially if he or she is having a change in vision.
  • Have hearing checked. Use hearing aids if they are needed and have been prescribed.
  • Ask a dietitian about tips for eating if taste and smell are lost or altered. Loss of taste and/or smell can have a significant impact on a person’s food intake and, therefore, their overall nutrition.
  • Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in the house, especially if sense of smell has been lost.
  • Try to be patient. Sensory changes can continue to improve over the first several months or even years after a TBI. Work with the healthcare team to track how the senses are functioning and recovering.
  • Seek further evaluation from a specialist if the changes become worse or do not improve.