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A metallic taste in the mouth usually has harmless causes, but it can also be a sign of serious illnesses such as poisoning or allergies.
Metal taste in the mouth - the most important facts
- If it tastes of metal in the mouth, this can have a variety of causes. The most common is blood: the red blood cells contain iron, which we taste as soon as the blood gets into the mouth.
- When performing high-performance sports, there may occasionally be slight bleeding in the airways, which is why marathon runners or extreme mountaineers often have a metallic taste in their mouth.
- Other causes can include taking certain medications (e.g. metronidazole for the treatment of infections or cancer drugs such as vorinostat or istodax), changes in hormone levels, poisoning with lead, zinc oxide or mercury, but also an excessive amount of minerals such as iron, zinc or Be copper in the body. These signs cannot be downplayed, since an excessively high potassium level (hyperkalaemia) can lead to death, for example.
- In the first weeks of pregnancy, a metallic taste develops in the mouth of the pregnant woman, which is caused by the changed hormone level, but this is harmless.
- Oral infections also lead to a metallic and sometimes putrid taste.
In the first third of pregnancy, many women complain of a metallic taste in their mouth. No need to worry: it is a normal consequence of the change in hormone levels. The taste usually disappears on its own.
Infections in the mouth and mouth rot, especially from fungi and on the tongue, disturb the taste buds. Some people find this changed taste to be “metallic”.
Blood and Iron
Our blood consists, among other things, of red blood cells that contain iron. When we taste blood, we perceive it through the iron ions through our tongue. As a result, we taste even with very slight injuries and bleeding in the mouth, metal on the tongue. Such a metallic taste is often caused by bleeding gums. Nosebleeds, attacked oral mucous membranes or bleeding in the stomach and esophagus can also trigger such a metallic taste.
Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and the tooth bed (periodontitis) is caused by the plaque - a coating with bacteria. This mineralizes to tartar with calcium in saliva. Bacteria from the oral flora settle here, multiply and feed on adhering food residues. The acidity of the bacteria causes tooth decay, which can be responsible for the gums coming loose from the teeth. As a result, there is bleeding and an iron taste in the mouth. Possible causes of bleeding gums can also be scurvy, triggered by a lack of vitamin C, or an HIV infection.
Ulcers of the oral mucosa
Sores in the mouth (canker sores) are small and cause pain. These spots come back more often, bleed in the middle and cause the typical taste in the mouth. The canker sores form in particular on the inside of the cheeks, on the soft parts of the palate and throat, and on or under the tongue.
Mouth infections caused by fungi, viruses and bacteria lead to bleeding of the mucous membranes, which are usually colds. The injured mucous membranes bleed, which, combined with pus, leads to a foul taste of iron. Herpes viruses and the Candida fungi also trigger such bleeding.
Lung and bronchial infections
Both pneumonia and bronchitis lead to a strong cough. It should be noted that when we cough, we cough up small parts of the injured mucous membranes. We often find the cough particles to be metallic, which is due to the fact that the mucous membranes bleed.
In order to provide the body with sufficient oxygen while we are doing sports, the lungs are given more blood. Therefore, exercising extreme sports can lead to bleeding. The more a person breathes, the more the valves of the lungs have to work. If extreme efforts are made, the airways are no longer supplied with sufficient moisture. As a result, when the mucous membranes dry out, cracks can form on them and tiny doses of blood get into the mouth with breathing. However, extreme sports do not necessarily have to be carried out, hard physical work can also be a trigger.
Dentures, bridges and implants can trigger a metallic taste if they are made of metal. Although the effect of the commonly used stainless steel is minimal, as this hardly corrodes, the effect of acids on the prosthesis can favor and trigger such a taste. Since these are mostly fruit acids, it can sometimes come as a surprise when people who wear a dental bridge and bite an apple taste metal.
Inhaling toxic substances can also produce a chemical-metallic taste, for example when working with paints, but especially when in contact with mercury. Mercury poisoning is not only noticeable by a metallic taste in the mouth, but also by accompanying cough and swollen mucous membranes. In addition to the metallic taste, lead poisoning causes increased salivation, nausea, vomiting, intestinal cramps and constipation. In both cases, you should immediately consult a doctor.
Those who expose themselves to zinc oxides for a long time not only feel a metallic taste in their mouth, but also get a strong fever, which is known as zinc fever.
Effective plant poisons that are cholinergic (reacting to acetylcholine) can also lead to neurological disorders such as a metallic taste - as well as visual disturbances and even convulsions.
This is a rather rare condition in which electrolytes shift because there is too much potassium in the blood. This can be life-threatening, since the potassium level affects the heart rhythm and the impulses between nerves and muscles.
The causes can be an insufficient excretion of potassium as a result of a kidney problem, medications such as ACE inhibitors, artificially added potassium or also potassium-rich food such as bananas or dried fruits in excess.
A metallic taste in the mouth is a typical symptom, but not the only one. Disorders of the heart rhythm are just as much a part of the clinical picture as "false reports" of the nervous system, for example if you feel a burning skin. Paralysis on the arms and legs occasionally occurs. Such an excess of potassium, regardless of the cause, must be treated immediately, as life-threatening consequences may result if it continues to rise. It is important that you stop potassium intake and adjust your medication to food and hormones.
In addition, there is potassium withdrawal through ion exchange by replacing potassium ions with sodium ions. However, such therapy takes time for the effects to take effect. Renal replacement procedures such as dialysis can also be considered.
When do you need to see a doctor?
If there is no harmless explanation for the metallic taste in the mouth, you should definitely consult a doctor immediately, since both lead poisoning and too high a potassium level are very serious damages. The situation is different if, for example, you bit your tongue, cough after a cold and the blood tastes of iron. If the cause is unclear and the taste is still metallic after a few days, the cause must be clarified by a doctor.
What to do about metal taste?
If you feel an unpleasant taste in your mouth caused by plaque, brush your teeth first and then rinse your mouth with salt water. Firstly, salt water works very well against plaque bacteria, secondly it removes food residues from which they feed and thirdly it removes the metallic taste.
Citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, mandarins or limes stimulate the flow of saliva so that the metallic taste is reduced by the increased saliva.
Pastilles with mint flavor or liquorice not only cover the metal taste, they also stimulate the flow of saliva. By chewing cloves or cardamom, the annoying taste can also be dispelled. In addition, carnation has a very good anti-inflammatory effect in the mouth.
Prevent metal taste?
Due to the many different causes and triggers, there are no general preventive measures to prevent the metallic taste in the mouth. Just like with a cold, you cannot avoid occasionally having small amounts of blood in your mouth.
However, you can prevent particularly frequent triggers for this taste: bleeding gums, tooth decay and dental plaque are caused primarily by poor oral hygiene. Regular mouthwashes and brushing teeth several times a day prevent this. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
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