Taste, smell and appetite changes

Some treatments to the head, neck and mouth area may affect your sense of taste and smell. Treatment may change the way the salivary glands work and cause changes in taste. Food may taste bitter or metallic, or may not have as much flavour as before.

It can take several months for taste changes to return to normal, and this may affect your appetite. See below for ways to manage changes to taste and smell. If you do not regain your full sense of smell, a speech pathologist may be able to teach you a new technique.

For more on this, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, download a booklet from this page, or see Taste and Smell Changes.

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Listen to podcasts on Appetite Loss and Nausea

How to manage taste changes

  • Add extra flavour to food if it tastes bland, e.g. use fresh herbs.
  • Freshen your mouth with sugarfree mints or gum, and brush your teeth after meals.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. As well as damaging your health, smoking reduces appetite and changes the taste of food. Call the Quitline on 13 7848 or visit quitnow.gov.au.
  • Use a straw so the taste of drinks isn’t as strong.
  • Stimulate your appetite with aromatic foods and ingredients.
  • Avoid bitter or metallic-tasting foods such as coffee and chocolate.
  • If food tastes “off”, rinse your mouth by drinking tea, or eating ice-cream and soft fruits such as watermelon.
  • See a dietitian for additional suggestions.

How to manage smell changes

  • If you lose your sense of smell, take precautions such as checking the use-by dates of foods and installing smoke detectors in your home.
  • If loss of smell stops you eating enough, you may lose weight. Use nutritional supplement drinks to increase nutritional intake, e.g. Ensure or Resource. These are available from most pharmacies.
  • Find ways to enjoy food more. Choose foods that are fresh and full-flavoured for a sensation on your tongue.
  • Download a copy of the fact sheet on Understanding Taste and Smell Changes from this page for more information.

This information was last reviewed in May 2017
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