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:

  • Aging

  • Breathing through your mouth, which leads to a dry mouth

  • Dehydration

  • Dry mouth

  • Smoking

Infections that can cause a metallic taste

A metallic or altered sense of taste can be due to infectious diseases including:

  • Common cold, flu, or any upper respiratory infection

  • Nasal infection or sinusitis

  • Salivary gland infection

  • Sore throat (pharyngitis)

  • Strep throat

  • Viral 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

  • Nasal polyps

  • 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

  • Antibiotics

  • Antithyroid drugs

  • Bronchodilators for asthma and COPD, such as albuterol (Proventil, Ventolin)

  • Captopril (Capoten) for high blood pressure and heart failure

  • Chemotherapy

  • Lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid)

  • Penicillamine (Cuprimine, Depen) for severe rheumatoid arthritis and Wilson’s disease

  • Procarbazine (Matulane) for Hodgkin’s disease

  • Rifampin (Rifamate, Rifater, IsonaRif) for tuberculosis or to prevent bacterial meningitis

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.

What are the potential complications of a metallic taste?

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

  • Weight loss
INTRODUCTION

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.

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SYMPTOMS

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:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 5, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health