The Caregiver's Journey

Sensory Changes

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

When the brain is injured, each of the senses is at risk for change. There is often not much to be done about these changes in the first year after injury.

Doctors often use a “wait and see” approach with the hope that sensory changes will go away on their own.

For some sensory changes that don’t go away over time, surgery may help. For others, therapy and learning to live with the effect will be in order.

What you might see:

  • Vision changes, such as blurry vision, double vision, or sensitivity to light 
  • Hearing changes, including muffled hearing or ringing in the ears (tinnitus) — in one or both ears
  • Changes in taste and smell. This could be a complete lack of taste and smell or an altered taste, such as a metallic flavor in the mouth

How you can help:

  • A neuro-ophthalmologist can evaluate visual changes. A neurologist can evaluate other sensory changes.
  • Reinforce wearing of an eye patch or special glasses if ordered for double vision.
  • Ask your service member/veteran to avoid alcohol. It may increase sensitivity to light and noise.
  • Seek professional advice about whether or not it is safe for your family member to drive, if he or she is having a change in vision.
  • Have his or her hearing checked. Use hearing aids, if needed. 
  • Ask a dietitian about tips for eating, if taste and smell are lost or altered.
  • Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in the house, if his or her sense of smell has been lost.
  • Try to be patient. Sensory changes can improve over the first several months or years after TBI. Work with the healthcare team to track how the senses are working. Seek further evaluation and treatment options as needed.