Sniffing out trouble


A growing number of children may 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 kids may be suffering parosmia – a condition 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, especially, may find it hard to eat food they once loved.

Leading smell expert Professor Carl Philpott from UEA’s medical school, together with Fifth Sense, has put together some useful guidance to help parents and health professionals to better identify and understand the condition. ‘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,’ explains Prof Philpott. ‘In many cases the condition is putting children off their food and some 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 kids are being difficult eaters.’

Fifth Sense chair and founder Duncan Boak says: ‘We’ve heard from parents whose children are suffering nutritional problems and have lost weight, but doctors have put this down to just fussy eating. We’re keen to share more information on this issue with the healthcare profession so they’re aware that there may be a wider problem.’

The guidance suggests that:

  • Children should be listened to and believed. Parents can help by keeping a diary to make a note of foods that are acceptable, and those that are triggers.
  • Establishing what the triggers are and what tastes ok is important. There are lots of common triggers ­ for example cooking meat and onions or garlic, and the smell of fresh coffee brewing, but these vary from child to child.
  • Parents and healthcare professionals should encourage children to try different foods with blander 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 to 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.