Covid could be turning children into ‘fussy eaters’ because it can distort their sense of smell, experts say
Scientists say that some people who catch Covid develop parosmia – a symptom where people experience strange and often unpleasant smell distortions.
Instead of smelling a lemon sufferers smell rotting cabbage, or chocolate may smell like petrol.
As many as 250,000 adults in the UK have suffered from the condition as a result of Covid infection.
And now smell experts say it could be turning children against their food, with many finding it difficult to eat anything at all.
Professor Carl Philpott, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, joined up with charity Fifth Sense to release guidance and help parents and healthcare professionals better recognise the disorder.
Professor Philpott said: ‘Parosmia is thought to be a product of having less smell receptors working which leads to only being able to pick up some of the components of a smell mixture.
‘We know that an estimated 250,000 adults in the UK have suffered parosmia as a result of a Covid infection.
You can’t walk past a bakery without gagging, the smell of onions makes you physically sick and even brushing your teeth is unbearable. It sounds unthinkable, yet that’s the reality for tens of thousands of people after getting Covid — myself included
WHAT IS PAROSMIA?
Parosmia causes things you encounter every day to seem like they have a strong, disagreeable odor.
In the most severe cases, parosmia can cause you to feel physically ill when your brain detects strong, unpleasant scents.
Parosmia usually occurs after your scent-detecting neurons – also called your olfactory senses – have been damaged due to a virus or other health condition. These neurons line your nose and tell your brain how to interpret the chemical information that makes up a smell.
A May 2021 study found that participants reported that their parosmia lasted anywhere between nine days and six months, however, the average duration of parosmia was 3.4 months.
Researchers are still trying to determine how common parosmia after Covid actually is. A June 2021 survey found that out of the 1,299 survey respondents, 140 of them (10.8 percent) reported having parosmia after Covid.
The five most common types of foods that triggered parosmia are chicken and meat, onions, eggs, garlic, and rice.
‘But in the last few months, particularly since Covid started sweeping through classrooms last September, we’ve become more and more aware that it’s affecting children too.
‘In many cases the condition is putting children off their food, and many may be finding it difficult to eat at all.
‘It’s something that until now hasn’t really been recognised by medical professionals, who just think the kids are being difficult eaters without realising the underlying problem.’ Professor Philpott said he is seeing teenage patients with parosmia for the first time in his career, while parosmia in younger children is becoming ‘increasingly common’.
‘This was nearly unheard of in children pre-Covid,’ he added.
The guidance suggests that parents keep a diary to make a note of foods that are safe and those that are triggers if they believe their child is suffering from the condition.
Encouraging children to try different foods with milder flavours – such as pasta, bananas or mild cheese – could also help.
Finally, ‘smell training’ could work as a simple treatment for smell problems. This involves sniffing at least four different odours – for example eucalyptus, lemon, rose, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee or lavender – twice a day every day for several months.
Duncan Boak, who founded the smell and taste charity Fifth Sense, said: ‘We’re hearing anecdotal evidence that children are really struggling with their food after Covid.
‘If children are suffering smell distortions – and food smells and tastes disgusting – it’s going to be really hard for them to eat the foods they once loved.
‘We’ve heard from some parents whose children are suffering nutritional problems and have lost weight, but doctors have put this down to just fussy eating.
‘We’re really keen to share more information on this issue with the healthcare profession so they’re aware that there is a wider problem here.’