More and more children could be turning into "fussy eaters" after a bout of Covid, according to smell experts at the University of East Anglia and Fifth Sense, the charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders.
This is because they may be suffering parosmia — a symptom where people experience strange and often unpleasant smell distortions. Instead of smelling a lemon you may smell rotting cabbage, or chocolate may smell like petrol. And children in particular may be finding it hard to eat foods they once loved.
Together, Fifth Sense and leading smell expert Prof Carl Philpott, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, are launching guidance to help parents and healthcare professionals better recognise the disorder.
Prof Carl 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. It’s a bit like Eric Morecambe famously said to Andre Previn – ‘it’s all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’."
Options for treatments are limited but the good news is that symptoms of post-viral olfactory dysfunction often decrease with time. Whilst parosmia is being experienced however, there are a number of ways that symptoms can be managed.
1. Believe them. Listen to what they are saying and support their needs. Don’t dismiss it as bad behaviour or being fussy or picky.
2. Help them to keep a diary to make a note of foods that changes, what are triggers and what are safe foods. There are lots of common triggers for example cooking meat and onions/garlic and the smell of fresh coffee brewing, but these can vary from person to person. Establishing what these triggers are and what tastes ok to is important.
3. Encourage them to try different foods with less strong flavours to see what they can cope with or enjoy (e.g. vanilla, white chocolate, cheese, banana, pasta), these can help to soften the bad tastes.
4. Suggest to them that they try using fruit-flavoured or unflavoured toothpaste and non-scented soap, shampoos and conditioners.
5. Help them to use a soft nose-clip when eating to help block the nose so that they are tasting what they eat without the flavours.
6. Suggest (or prescribe) vanilla or flavour-free milkshake protein drinks to get the nutrients without any taste.
7. Talk to them about the experiences of young people from across the world who are experiencing or have recovered from smell and taste disorders on our website https:// fthsense.org.uk/young-people.
Finally, children and adults alike should consider "smell training" – which has emerged as a simple and side-effect free treatment option for various causes of smell loss. In younger children this might not be helpful, but in teenagers this might be something they can tolerate.
Information about and guidance can be found at Fifth Sense.