Just as with adults, Covid-19 causes loss of taste and smell in children.
In most cases, children will recover smell and taste in two or three weeks. For some it can take longer and they may experience parosmia - distorted and disgusting smells that will affect what they can eat.
It’s important to remember that your child is not being picky or difficult: this is a chemical reaction beyond their control.
Download our parent's guide to smell disorders
Children may be less aware of their sense of smell, but you may notice they aren’t interested in eating or they’re not able to taste anything. Smell and taste are closely linked so this is a big clue their sense of smell has been affected.
Most children will be back to normal within two or three weeks.
Sometimes children with persistent smell loss will experience parosmia as they start to recover. This is a normal part of the process, but it can be very difficult to live with.
Parosmia is where normal odour molecules from everyday foods like bread, eggs, chocolate and onions trigger a disgust response. Someone with parosmia may feel repulsed and even physically sick from a usually pleasant smell. As well as food, some products like shampoo, or even water, can be triggers.
Parosmia is often quite intense in the early stages, but it will start to get better. You and your child will start to recognise triggers and avoid them if necessary.
Children and young people with persistent smell loss - longer than three weeks - are likely to have a longer recovery period. This is because supporting cells in the nose have been damaged and they need to heal. Unfortunately there is no way to tell how long this will take.
There isn’t any medicine that will help, but smell training might be beneficial. Studies in adults show that smell training twice a day supports a quicker recovery.
See our section on smell training for instruction and advice, including how to make your own smell training kit.
Eating with a smell disorder can be difficult. Eating without being able to taste is no fun - try eating a meal wearing a nose clip. Some children may lose their appetite altogether. Tempt them with small portions and think about texture, temperature and colour.
The blog section has lots of tips and ideas.
The aromas from food can trigger a disgust response which makes it almost impossible to eat something. Your child may complain that something smells rotten or like poo.
This is how adults report their experience of parosmia so don’t think your child is being rude or overly dramatic - that is how it actually smells to them.
Understanding the condition, learning what might be parosmia triggers, and experimenting with different ways to enjoy food will help overcome some of the challenges.
Encourage your child to be a ‘sensory detective’ and keep a notebook or a list on the fridge to record what’s good and what’s not.
When parosmia is very intense, or your child has no appetite, it will affect what they can eat. At these times a flavourless protein shake (like Huel) or even ice-cream is a tempting way to get the calories they need. Cold foods are often manageable - they have less smell. Small plates of a single food can be easier to face, and colour and texture are tempting.
You may find your child chooses foods with more salt or sugar as these are more satisfying. Salt and sugar are ‘true taste’ sensations that may be unaffected by loss of smell.
Remember this won’t last forever, so a few weeks with an unusual diet won’t hurt. However, if you are concerned about your child’s weight please speak to your doctor for advice.