What is a metallic taste?
A metallic taste is a distorted sense of taste in your mouth. A metallic, bitter or foul taste in the mouth is also referred to as dysgeusia.
A lack of or change in taste can be due to anything that interferes with the normal taste process. Taste and the flavors you perceive are the result of a combination of the sense of smell and sensory neurons in your taste buds, which tell the brain what substances you taste (sweet, salty, sour and bitter).
You are born with about 10,000 taste buds, but you start to lose them as you age. That is why older people can usually tolerate more intense tastes than children. Taste can also be impaired by smoking and certain diseases and conditions. Common conditions that can impair your sense of taste include a stuffy nose due to allergies or the common cold, a sinus infection, and certain medications. A metallic taste during pregnancy is a fairly common complaint as well.
Because a metallic taste can be a sign of an infection or other condition, you should seek prompt medical care and talk with your medical professional about your symptoms. If a metallic taste persists, recurs, or causes you concern, notify your doctor or health care provider. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience trouble breathing or swallowing.
What other symptoms might occur with a metallic taste?
A metallic taste may occur by itself or with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that may accompany a metallic taste include:
Change in facial movements due to facial nerve dysfunction
Loss of appetite
Poor sense of smell
Swollen or inflamed tonsils
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, a metallic taste can indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
Change in consciousness, alertness, or confusion
Inability to swallow
High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
Paralysis or drooping of the face
Sudden swelling of the mouth, lips or tongue
What causes a metallic taste?
The taste process involves thousands of sensory neurons embedded in your taste buds and in the uppermost part of your nose (olfactory system). These neurons signal what you are eating and tasting to your brain.
A metallic taste in the mouth can be caused by any disease, disorder or condition that interferes with the taste process, including smoking, the common cold, aging, and neurological disorders. In many cases, the metallic or bad taste will disappear on its own when the underlying condition, such as an upper respiratory infection, is resolved.
However, there are certain causes, such as chemical poisoning, and autoimmune and neurological disorders, that can be more serious. If you are taking medications and suspect that they may be the underlying factor in the bitter taste in your mouth, talk with your doctor about your symptoms. It is possible that a switch to another medication may resolve the issue.
Common conditions that can cause a metallic taste
A metallic or altered sense of taste can be due to the following conditions:
Breathing through your mouth, which leads to a dry mouth
Infections that can cause a metallic taste
A metallic or altered sense of taste can be due to infectious diseases including:
Nasal infection or sinusitis
Salivary gland infection
Trauma or injuries that can cause a metallic taste
A metallic or altered sense of taste can arise from trauma to the mouth or the sensory nerves that perceive taste including:
Burning or biting the tongue
Chemical poisoning, such as exposure to insecticides
Head, nose or mouth injury
Other conditions that cause a metallic taste
A metallic or altered sense of taste can be due to a variety of other diseases, disorders and conditions including:
Bell’s palsy (neurological disorder)
Dental or orthodontic appliances, such as braces
Dental problems, such as gingivitis or dental surgery
Glossitis (inflammation of the tongue)
Hay fever or other allergies that result in a stuffy nose
Neurological disorders, including brain damage
Radiation therapy to the head or neck
Sjogren’s syndrome (autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands in the body)
Surgery to the ears, nose or throat
Vitamin B12 or zinc deficiency
Medications that can cause a metallic taste
A metallic or altered sense of taste can be due to a variety of medications including:
Acetylcholine esterase inhibitors for Alzheimer’s disease
Captopril (Capoten) for high blood pressure and heart failure
Lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid)
Penicillamine (Cuprimine, Depen) for severe rheumatoid arthritis and Wilson’s disease
Procarbazine (Matulane) for Hodgkin’s disease
Questions for diagnosing the cause of a metallic taste
To diagnose the underlying cause of a metallic taste, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions about your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider in diagnosing the cause of a metallic taste:
When did the metallic taste first appear?
Describe any changes in the texture, appearance and taste of the tongue. Have you noticed any tongue swelling or mouth sores or lesions?
Describe all diseases and conditions in your medical and dental history and list all the medications, supplements, and herbal drugs you are taking. Do you smoke?
Have you been in recent contact with any unusual substances or environments, such as chemicals, insecticides, or hot and spicy foods?
Describe any recent conditions, such as fever, upper respiratory infections, oral or tongue trauma, or other conditions of the mouth, throat or nose.
Complications associated with a metallic taste can be progressive, and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because a metallic taste can be due to a serious disease, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent change in taste or smell. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan you and your doctor design specifically for you can help reduce any potential complications including:
Depression due to a reduced ability to enjoy food
Loss of appetite and change of eating habits
Malnutrition due to loss of appetite
Possibility of eating spoiled food