If your child has a new food aversion, it could be COVID

key takeaways

  • COVID-19 has caused food aversions in some children.
  • A new case report details two different situations in which this occurs.
  • If your child has a food aversion, you shouldn’t automatically assume they have COVID-19, experts say.

Diagnosing COVID-19 in young children can be tricky because they often have trouble expressing their feelings in words. But a new case report suggests that parents and pediatricians should be on the lookout for a seemingly unrelated symptom: a new food aversion.

This is the conclusion of the report published in the journal Pediatrics. The report looked specifically at two children under the age of two who had a sudden aversion to solid foods immediately after contracting COVID-19. In both children, it took six to eight months to see improvement.

The first child was 16 months old and developed a food aversion after choking. Four months before that, she had a few days of low-grade fever and irritability, and drank less than usual. The baby tested positive for COVID-19 and refused solid food. Instead, she drank a lot of whole milk—up to 1.5 liters a day.

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The second patient, a 17-month-old boy, presented with fever, shortness of breath and stomach upset for a week. He tested positive for COVID-19 and has since refused to eat. He vomits within five minutes of each feeding, even though he has been on solid food since he was five months old, with no problems with previous food.

“We believe that, in the appropriate epidemiological and clinical context, acute food aversion in prelinguistic children should trigger testing for COVID-19, as it may be the first and only symptom of infection, and paediatricians can Provide parents with anticipatory guidance for young children contracting COVID-19 after an episode,” the report’s authors concluded.

Has a child suddenly had a food aversion? Here’s what you need to know.

What are other symptoms of COVID-19 in children?

Symptoms of COVID-19 in children are similar to adults, Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at St. John’s Health Center in Providence, California, told VigorTip. These include:

  • fever or chills
  • cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • muscle or body pain
  • headache
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • sore throat
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

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Why Children May Have Food Aversion to COVID-19

It’s not just random symptoms detected in case reports.

“I saw it too,” Gan Jian said. “Typically, when kids get a virus, including COVID-19, they don’t want to eat for a week or two.”

There are several potential reasons for this, he said, including decreased appetite due to feeling bad, and possible loss of taste and smell.

Fortunately, it usually doesn’t linger — Ganjian says most kids return to their normal eating habits after a week or two.

what does this mean to you

If your child has a sudden aversion to eating, talk to your pediatrician and mention if they have recently been exposed to COVID-19. Your healthcare provider should be able to guide you from there.

What to do if your child suddenly has a food aversion

Still, experts say you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that your child has COVID-19 if your child suddenly has a food aversion.

“I can’t believe it,” said Jeffrey Hyams, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Connecticut Children’s Hospital who works with children with food aversions. “Reliable? Of course. But if it’s the only manifestation, we can’t know if it’s COVID-19 unless they get tested for the virus.”

Hymes noted that the first child in the study had a severe choking episode, a “very common association” with food aversion in children. The second child also had “emotional distress,” which could also lead to food aversions, he said.

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“If a child just has a food aversion, I don’t automatically assume they have COVID-19,” Hymes said.

It’s important to consider other factors, including other symptoms your child may have, Ganjian said.

“Do they still have a fever, cough, runny nose, vomiting or diarrhea?” he said. “If so, call your pediatrician. They will determine if testing is necessary.”

It’s also important to consider potential risks, Hymes said. “If a daycare worker or family member has recently tested positive, there is a greater chance that the child will be infected,” he said.

Also, compared to previous variants, the Omicron variant (now the predominant variant of the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S.) appears to be less common in loss of taste and smell (which can cause kids to not want to eat), according to Hyams.

However, Gan Jian emphasized that the persistent food aversion in children should not be ignored.

“Talk to your pediatrician,” he said. “You may need to try different strategies, such as changing foods, offering foods more frequently, and feeding your child smaller amounts. Children under two may be picky eaters.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.