COVID-19: Children ‘becoming fussy eaters’ after getting coronavirus, experts suggest
More children are becoming fussy eaters after getting COVID-19, experts have suggested.
The virus is leading to growing numbers of youngsters developing parosmia – a disorder where people experience strange and often unpleasant smell distortions, researchers found.
For those with the condition, chocolate can smell like petrol and lemon can smell like rotting cabbage.
Smell experts at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Fifth Sense, a charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders, say children may be finding it particularly hard to eat foods they once loved.
Professor Carl Philpott, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said in many cases the condition is “putting children off their food, and many may be finding it difficult to eat at all”.
“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,” he said.
“We know that an estimated 250,000 adults in the UK have suffered parosmia as a result of a COVID infection.
“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.”
Fifth Sense chairman and founder Duncan Boak said the charity has heard from some parents whose children are suffering nutritional problems and have lost weight, but doctors have put this down to just fussy eating.
He said he is seeing teenage patients with parosmia for the first time in his career.
‘He just stopped eating’
Malisse Kafi, 11, had coronavirus in September and has found it difficult to eat since then because everything tasted “like poo and rotten eggs”, his mother said.
“He just stopped eating, food was making him retch and gag,” Dawn Kafi said. “It was horrendous.”
He was diagnosed with parosmia and given a nasal spray, but it did not help.
He lost 2kg and was taken to hospital in November after he became dehydrated and started slurring his words.
The youngster needed to be fed via a tube through his nose and into his stomach.
Malisse still has the disorder, but he has some safe foods that he can eat and is starting to get better.
Advice for parents
Prof Philpott and Fifth Sense are launching guidance to help parents and healthcare professionals recognise the disorder.
Parents are advised to keep a diary of foods that are safe.
“There are lots of common triggers – for example cooking meat and onions or garlic and the smell of fresh coffee brewing,” Prof Philpott said.
He added: “Parents and healthcare professionals should encourage children to try different foods with less strong flavours, such as pasta, bananas, or mild cheese – to see what they can cope with or enjoy.
“Vanilla or flavour-free protein and vitamin milkshakes can help children get the nutrients they need without the taste.
“And it may sound obvious, but children could use a soft nose clip or hold their nose while eating to help them block out the flavours.”