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Nosing in on kids who had COVID and lost their sense of smell

Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Dr. Yolanda Holler-Managan, a pediatric neurologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said she doesn’t see why this method wouldn’t work for children, too. In both age groups, the olfactory nerve can regenerate every six to eight weeks. As the nerve heals, training can help strengthen the sense of smell.

“It’s like helping a muscle get stronger again,” she said.

Doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado will use essential oils to try to restore the sense of smell in children whose olfactory function may have been affected by the virus that causes COVID-19. (CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL COLORADO)

Late last spring, when doctors started discovering smell and taste issues in adults with COVID, Dr. Kenny Chan, the pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist overseeing the new clinic in Colorado, realized this could be an issue with kids, too.

Dr. Kathleen Sie, chief of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital, became aware of the problem when she received an email from someone at a local urgent care center. After reading the message, Sie called Chan to talk about it. The conversation snowballed into her spearheading a smell-training clinic at her facility.

Both clinicians must contend with the challenges “smell training” may pose to children. For starters, some young patients may not know how to identify certain scents used in adult tests — spices such as cloves, for instance — because they’re too young to have a frame of reference, said McClay.

 

As a workaround, Chan substituted some scents for odors that might be more recognizable.

Finding children who are experiencing smell disturbances is also tricky. Many with COVID are asymptomatic, and others may be too young to verbalize what they are experiencing or recognize what they are missing.

Nonetheless, McClay said, the potential benefit of the simple treatment outweighs the cost and challenges of setting it up for children. Adult smell-training kits sell for less than $50.

“There is zero data out there that says that this does anything,” said Chan. “But if no one cares to look at this question, then this question is not going to be solved.”

©2021 Kaiser Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.