What Causes a Metallic Taste in Your Mouth?

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Having a metallic taste in your mouth on occasion is not necessarily uncommon or a cause for concern. The medical term for this condition is parageusia. This article discusses several conditions that can cause this and when you should worry. It may also be helpful to know that taste is directly related to your sense of smell, so conditions that cause changes in your sense of smell can also lead to a metallic taste in your mouth.

Mouth Injury or Recent Mouth Surgery

Blood in your mouth can cause a metallic taste because it is so high in iron. Therefore any kind of recent injury that causes bleeding, even biting your tongue, can cause a metallic taste in your mouth. This is also true of recent surgeries, such as having your wisdom teeth removed or a tonsillectomy. As your wounds heal the metallic taste in your mouth will also disappear.

Gum Disease or Poor Oral Health

Conditions such as gingivitis or periodontitis that often result from poor oral hygiene (foregoing regular dental check ups, not brushing or flossing regularly, etc...) can cause a metallic taste in your mouth. The metallic taste is often caused by bleeding from the gums. While the metallic taste in your mouth is probably just an annoyance, gum disease can be serious and should be treated to avoid complications such as tooth loss. You should make an appointment with your dentist if you suspect that gum disease may be causing the metallic taste in your mouth.

Medication Side Effects or Cancer Treatment

Hundreds of commonly used medications can cause you to have a metallic taste in your mouth, here is a list of some types of medications that are known to cause this side effect:

  • Antibiotics including metronidazole
  • Antidepressants or antipsychotic medications
  • Seizure medications including phenytoin
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Steroids
  • Nicotine patches
  • Diuretics
  • Antifungal medications
  • Medications used to treat glaucoma
  • Antihistamines (it should be noted that certain allergies can also cause a metallic taste)
  • Medications used to treat osteoporosis
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Vitamins that contain heavy metals such as copper or zinc
  • Medications used to treat diabetes, including Metformin

In addition to chemotherapy, other cancer treatments have also been known to cause a metallic taste in the mouth, specifically radiation to the head or neck, for example.

Pregnancy

Disturbances in taste and smell are both common during pregnancy and may manifest as a metallic taste in the mouth. This is probably the result of hormonal changes and is more common in the early stages of pregnancy. Vitamin deficiencies, (iron deficiency, for example) may also contribute to taste disturbances during pregnancy as well as taking prenatal vitamins.

Sinus Problems

Any kind of problems in the sinuses or nasal passageways can also cause abnormalities in your sense of smell and subsequently your sense of taste. Conditions such as sinusitis, acute or chronic sinus infections, enlarged turbinates, deviated septum, or even a middle ear infection or a history of recent middle ear surgery can cause a metallic taste in your mouth.

Specific allergies, including tree pollen can lead to sinus problems and a metallic taste in your mouth. These problems are generally treated with antibiotics, by addressing underlying allergies, or by surgery. Once your sinus issues have resolved the metallic taste in your mouth will also go away.

Food Allergies and Anaphylaxis

Specific food allergies such as allergies to shellfish and tree nuts have been known to cause a metallic taste in the mouth, but more importantly a metallic taste in the mouth has been identified as an early symptom of a serious allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock.

The metallic taste begins almost immediately after you are exposed to something you are allergic to and is soon followed by other symptoms such as itching of the mouth, face, hands or feet, sweating, headache, or disorientation.

The condition progresses to even more serious symptoms such as swelling of the face, lips or tongue, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing. Anaphylaxis is life threatening. If you suspect that you or someone you are with is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. This type of allergic reaction is typically treated with supplemental oxygen and airway support (if necessary), a shot of epinephrine, and antihistamines.

Diabetes and Low Blood Sugar

Diabetes and low blood sugar have both reportedly caused taste disturbances including a metallic taste in the mouth. A common diabetic medication, Metformin, is also very likely to cause a metallic taste in the mouth.

Kidney Failure

Another serious cause of a metallic taste in your mouth is kidney failure. Other symptoms of kidney failure may include: little urination, excessive urination, no urine, bloody stools, body swelling, flank pain, seizures, changes in mood or mental status, bruising, fatigue, decreased appetite, high blood pressure, and more.

Dementia or Other Neurological Disease

Neurological problems such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease can also cause taste disturbances including a metallic taste in the mouth. This is because the brain has problems interpreting signals coming from the taste buds. This can lead to other symptoms such as loss of appetite. Other neurological problems that can cause this include: Parkinson's disease, Bell's palsy, brain lesions or tumors, strokes, or conditions that cause demyelination such as multiple sclerosis.

When to See a Doctor

If you briefly experience a metallic taste in your mouth it's probably nothing to worry about. Take note if you have recently started any new medications, as this is an extremely common culprit. However, if you persistently have this experience and you also exhibit other worrisome symptoms you should see your doctor. As previously mentioned, a metallic taste in the mouth is an early symptoms of anaphylactic shock, which is a life threatening condition. Suspect anaphylaxis if the metallic taste in your mouth is accompanied by itching, redness, swelling of the face or tongue, difficulty breathing or wheezing. If you have these symptoms call 911 or go to the emergency room right away.

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Metallic taste occurring during anaphylactic episodes. Accessed: May 30, 2017 from http://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/metallic-taste-anaphylaxis

JAMA Network. Neurological Aspects of Taste Disorders. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/784121

Medical News Today. Why is There a Metallic Taste in My Mouth? http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313744.php

Medline Plus. Acute kidney failure. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000501.htm

NHS Choices. Metallic taste in the mouth. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/metallic-taste/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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