Expert Answer: Experiencing unusual smells or tastes

Question: Have you ever had a patient say they experience metallic taste or smell prior to migraine episodes?

Experiencing unusual smells or taste can be a normal part of the migraine prodrome for some migraine individuals. Migraine attacks usually occur in stages and the initial stage for some Migraineurs is a “pre-headache” phase occurring for hours of days before the onset of aura or headache. The “pre-headache” phase is characterized by vague symptoms such as food cravings, elation, drowsiness, yawning and/or fatigue. This “pre-headache” phase can serve as a warning that a migraine is coming and may be an opportunity to get preventive management on board. This “pre-headache” phase is referred to as the “prodrome”.


Prodrome is different from aura. Prodrome precedes aura. During the aura phase of migraine, there are specific neurological signs and symptoms such as flashing lights, slurred speech, and tingling on one side of the body. Most aura symptoms last less than 1 hour. Premonitory symptoms that make up the prodrome are non-specific and can last for hours or days.

Craving chocolate is commonly reported before a migraine and may well be part of the prodrome. It is likely that chocolate is NOT a trigger for migraine as many think but rather part of the prodrome, i.e. the individual was already going to get a migraine and the chocolate was not the cause.

Experiencing a metallic taste or smell prior to a migraine attack is most likely part of this non-specific pre-headache phase of the prodrome. To be reassuring, it should resolve once the migraine occurs and not be experienced in between attacks.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (50)
  • fedup1978
    2 years ago

    The taste and smell thing is new. everything I eat I get a aftertaste of wax.
    This starts 2 to 4 days Before I get the aurora and the pain. Trying to figure out if there is something I can do to stave the migraine pain off

  • Franniep1126
    3 years ago

    I have had the visual auras and they are exactly as depicted in the videos. Strangely, though, I don’t always get a painful headache with visual auras. However in the past 2 years, I have not had visual auras but strange tastes and sometimes smells. Usually the taste and smell is like that of burning rubber or oil. It tastes like it smells when there is hot tar on the road. Nasty. I always get a painful headache after these symptoms. The taste (and smell) stays with me throughout the painful part.

    I was wondering if anyone else has such experiences. I also get little tingles, sometimes on a small spot on the side of my nose or mouth or tongue. Tingles are not always in the same place.

  • 1headcase
    4 years ago

    I have a couple of olfactory hallucinations- I work as a veterinary technician and have spent hours at home trying to figure out whether I stepped in cat poop- only to get a migraine later.
    If I walk in to the clinic in the morning on Monday and can smell that the Saturday crew used Pine-sol it’ll be a bad day.
    I also have a lot of fillings and when I can “taste” them or they feel like I’ve been chewing tinfoil it’s going to be a bad one.
    There’s also a working on the computer too much smell-smells like melena (bloody stool) -migraine guaranteed within 12 hours.
    Fun fun fun…not

  • Ericelevi
    5 years ago

    I have always (almost 30 yrs) had the taste of beer or yeast in my mouth in prodrome, but in the last two weeks I suddenly started having the smell of urine precede a headache. I made my poor son clean his room from top to bottom because I was convinced I could smell it in there. Now, before the nasties start with my prodrome (photophobia, phono-phobia, sensitivity to smells and touch) I am getting this awful smell. We are having terrible weather in Portland, so my headaches are up and down daily for the last nine days. Human barometer at work. Nothing is working to either abort a headache daily or stop the whole roller coaster ride I am on from rain to sun and back multiple times in a day. I hate this, I hate this. What to do? Its like walking in and out of a dirty public restroom over and over again.

  • MahtaMouse
    5 years ago

    I smell a sickening sweet rotting smell that for some reason I associate with death. For years I’d run around the house asking my husband “do you smell that?!” But ofcourse he never did. I thought I was going crazy. I also smelled it when my dogs died. I’d be grief stricken and crying and then suddenly demand that we bury my beloved pet NOW because she was “rotting”. And then I’d have a migraine. Took YEARS to put 2 and 2 together! Finally Googled smells and found out it’s a kind of aura. Spoke to my doctor who confirmed it and said some lucky people smell coffee or apples! Now that I know, there have been a few times that I’ve got this smell and will take my naproxen to head off a migraine only to have it come back as soon as the naproxen wears off. This has gone on for 3-4 days, up to a week.

  • Misstah
    7 years ago

    I get a metallic taste and smell burning, the burning smell is sooo strong I’m convinced the house is on fire!

  • Sonya Weiss
    7 years ago

    I smell “dirty lawnmower gas”. It started in the summer time so I thought it was a smell outside my house. 2 1/2 yrs later it’s still with me. Drives me crazy because I know it’s not really there.

  • Tiffany Park
    7 years ago

    I thought I was imagining things. I always smell and taste metal when I have a migraine. It’s weird…

  • Ananga Manjari Devi Dasi
    7 years ago

    Fantastic article, I get a ‘metal’ taste and an hour or so later the headache starts and builds up from there with other side effets, flashing white light like an arc. Then an hour later the headache starts……Reading this now I only get the taste ‘prior’ to an attack! Never at any other time! Its re-assuring to know the funny taste is part of my migraine attacks. I never tied the two in before now!

  • Sophia Baker
    7 years ago

    Glad to know I’m not crazy! I can smell a smell like finger nail polish remover. Sometimes if I take something as soon as I get that smell I wont develop full fledged migraine. Other times not so lucky!

  • Kelly Johnson
    7 years ago

    I knew it had to have something to do with my migraines! I am always smelling the weirdest burning smell before a migraine…it drives my husband crazy when I am running from room to room looking for the culprit!

  • Joseph Curlett
    7 years ago

    tell eric to stop thinking and you won’t smell that smell!!!!!lol

  • Monica Shoots
    7 years ago

    I thought I was Crazy noticing this then poof you post this article. Thanks for the info. I smell stuff that my husband doe’s not and other family members. I am always asking them don’t you smell it? I have been smelling some type of gas then my migraine hits. I wake up with a headache every day then it turns into a migraine and some days I just wake up with a migraine. It is frustrating.

  • Susan Long Hayden
    7 years ago

    I have suffered with migraines for 30 years…my most recent episodes were coming three or 4 times a week…I did get some relief from Relpax but found it hard on the budget. I have tried any and everything people have suggested with no relief UNTIL, I was told to try coming off of BEEF…Now my migraines are gone. GONE. I am on my 14th headache free day and feel great. Has anyone else had this kind of results on deleting Beef from their diet?

  • MahtaMouse
    5 years ago

    Salt. Doctor said I had a salt allergy (sensitivity?). I had MONTHS of blessed relief! But then because of work, canned, boxed, and some pre-packaged items like bread, etc. re-entered my diet and so did my migraines. Though not as frequent since I buy salt-free and low-sodium as much as possible and no longer cook with salt and take a doc prescribed diuretic for migraines. I’ve gone from daily migraines during my “salty” days, to 3-4 times a month (semi-salty).

  • Valerie Young Johnson
    7 years ago

    I’m so glad you have found some relief.

  • Pat Dodson Douty
    7 years ago

    This was quite interesting in that I have the nasty smells thing going on, but don’t have migraines. Often it smells like someone left a filtered cigarette burning until the filter catches fire. At other times it smells like a hot dog that has been burnt over an open fire. Any ideas on other things that cause this symptom. Doctors look at me like I’m crazy when I mention it.

  • Deborah Clark
    7 years ago

    This is wonderful to know that I am not the only one with the over sensitive nose. Not only do I smell something burning, but the smell of any scents will put me into a 10 migraine. The smell of food at times is so bad I get sick. I am losing my taste for foods because I can’t handle the smells anymore. The last few times I have gone out to eat I had gotten sick because the smells are too strong. Thank you for the article and comments! Now I know I am not completly crazy.

  • Lynn Sutton
    7 years ago

    you’re not crazy! If you are then I am too 🙂

  • Barbara Gronstrom Harrison
    7 years ago

    An extremely acute sense of smell is a good warning for me. If my shampoo and soap in the shower are especially strong smelling, you can bet money that a migraine is not far behind. In general, I also have a better sense of smell than most folks–no doubt attributed to migraine disease. I have also experience the metallic taste.

  • Jeanne Albanese Silva
    7 years ago

    I can’t drive behind diesel vehicles.(perfume does it too)

  • Cathy Roheim
    7 years ago

    How true — strong perfume used to do the trick for me too. Having someone stop in my office with strong smelling shampoo has also caused a migraine.

  • La Gata Salvaje
    7 years ago

    I get that awful taste also in my mouth and throat, thought I was wierd but I see I am not alone with this. I also right after get that a nasty a migraine. I also crave chocolate sometimes then a migraine kicks in.

  • Kym Magnolia
    7 years ago

    I thought it was just me and I was simply crazy! It doesn’t happen with every migraine but I often smell chocolate chip cookies (that ‘just baked’ or ‘in the oven baking’ scent) or vanilla when noone else does — and certainly when no baking is going on. Thankfully I missed out on the poop and trach can smells 🙂

  • Lee Ann Wilson
    7 years ago

    I never put 2 and 2 together about the taste until this article. The aura I knew was a precursor to a migraine. They are quite annoying, but at least they’re painless. I have noticed, the longer it takes to get a migraine from the time I have an aura (say a day or two as opposed to an hour) the worse the migraine is and the longer it lasts.

  • Kym Magnolia
    7 years ago

    Interesting stuff, huh? I’ve never had a taste or aura. The scent of something baking though, I get often. I srsly thought I was off my rocker 🙂

  • Lee Ann Wilson
    7 years ago

    I’ve never smelled anything, but I have occasionally had a metallic taste in my mouth and more frequently than that, an aura.

  • Carolyn Halsey
    7 years ago

    I get the taste of aspirin, then my speech slurs I know what’s happening then. Also lights seem brighter than normal and sounds are louder than normal…the whole process is just ick.

  • Carolyn Halsey
    7 years ago

    I get the disorientation afterwards too.

  • Danny Randall
    7 years ago

    I go blind for about 20 minutes. By the time my vision comes back I have a raging headache. When the headache’s gone I’m left stupid…can’t read, can’t work with numbers. Fun shit, migraines…

  • Jessica Smith
    7 years ago

    I often get a taste like blood at the back of my throat & I will smell it to. I got my 1st diagnosed migraine a week after a concussion that left me with that blood taste & smell for days. They said I had a small amount of bleeding in my brain. That was causing the smell & taste then now I just thought it was like a memory smell. Next time I’ll try some preventive treatments.

  • Crystal Davenport Cooper
    7 years ago

    I get this yucky taste in the back of my throat, like what happens at the onset of a soar throat, that blood/metallic thing. Had no idea it was related to my migraines until I read this. It usually happens starting a day or two before and ending the day of. I also smell, and I know this is weird, cat pee. Yep, I smell cat pee about two hours before I get a migraine. Not all the time, but usually the ones that don’t have a typical aura (like flashing lights or tunnel vision).

  • Shae Christine Elaine Leighland-Pence
    7 years ago

    This is very true for me! In fact, it has progressed in strength lately.

  • Pris Campbell
    7 years ago

    Not good, Shae.

  • Georgia Slesinger
    7 years ago

    I often smell, taste and HEAR things that aren’t there before a migraine and during. Mostly I smell a burnt toast smell or flowers/perfume/incense. I don’t exactly taste anything specific, but my normal foods taste different to me, or tasteless.

  • Chrissy Kmsg
    7 years ago

    I get the cravings of the choc. to n then 2 days later the migraine hits hard… n I alwys get the metal taste or just dnt have a aquaried taste for anything.. I am a ice tea drinker n soda n I drink my ice tea round the clock n a soda at least once day but I have thought I needed to change tea bag brand n I did several times n that didn’t change my taste of metal n then after 2 days of that taste the head ache starts as like a sinus headache then few hours later the migraine kicks in its happenin more frequent then it use to n not sure y but thnks for the article it helps some.

  • Kay Teague
    8 years ago

    My sense of smell is intensified before, during and after a migraine. My sense of smell is normally very sensitive. About 15 years ago, I would get a real strong cinnamon smell before a migraine. Now I what I smell is just like a dirty house or trash can and my right nostril gets very congested with pain sinus pain and pressure on the right side once the migraine starts.

  • Barb Parcell
    8 years ago

    I commonly smell exhaust fumes or a minerally or metallic smell when no one else can. I find this part of my migraines to be extremely annoying.

  • Val Milo
    8 years ago

    My husband if sick of me having a super smeller, also having the imaginary smells doesn’t help either. Once again, thanks for a great article that makes me realize I’m not a freak or completely psychotic!

  • Laura Watson
    8 years ago

    I often smell burning or a general ‘trash can’ kind of smell, it drives me mad. Also, I have given up chocolate because I thought it was a trigger as I always seemed to get an attack a day or so after eating it. Does this mean I can start eating it again 🙂

  • Debra Nemeth
    8 years ago

    OMG! Finally! I smell the “burning” odor too!! and the trash can odor stuff. I always wondered about that”burn smell”..now I don’t feel so ‘crazy’. Thank You Laura!

  • Clare Watson
    8 years ago

    Yes I think that is all the proof you need!

  • Ruthie Ventura
    8 years ago

    I knew it! I always crave chocolate before a migraine at first I thought it was hormones but, I also get the smell and sometimes taste of metal and I can smell everything and everyone.
    At times I am consistently checking my temperature, I have so many prodomes that when I tell the doctor its always a new aura. But his article puts me at ease that I was right and the dr was wrong blaming that smell on I was probaly getting a sinus infection and being placed on antibiotics thanks!

  • Diana Lee
    8 years ago

    I can’t believe I’m writing this out to share it, but I often smell poop smells that no one else smells in the prodome phase. Nice, isn’t it? 🙂

  • Sophia Dawn
    8 years ago

    My sense of smell is ridiculously sensitive (and not limited to poop smells).

  • Marjorie Lane
    8 years ago

    I have had this going on for 2 weeks now with nearly constant head ache with it. Strange phantom odors and tingling has been going on for a while. I was diagnosed with “migraine disease” some tears ago and am on topamax to stop the head aches from coming on and then imatrex when they do. I have now had a head ache since last Monday! I hope to see a doctor tomorrow.

  • Rae Sawyer
    8 years ago

    Yes, I smell cirarettes. As if someone is smoking. For many years I thought I just had a sensitive nose because people around me never noticed it.

  • Poll