The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people all around the world, and it’s a concern for parents to know whether their children are safe from the virus or not. While children are less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, they can still catch the virus and potentially spread it to others.
But what happens if a child has COVID-19 and the symptoms persist even after they have recovered from the acute phase of the illness? This is known as long COVID, and in this article, we’ll dive into what parents should know about long COVID in children.
What is Long COVID in Children?
Long COVID is a term used to describe the persistence of symptoms in people who have recovered from COVID-19. These symptoms can include fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches, and shortness of breath, among others. It’s still unclear why some people experience long COVID, but there are theories that suggest it could be due to complications from the virus, changes in the immune system, or psychological effects from having a long-term illness.
What are the Symptoms of Long COVID in Children?
The symptoms of long COVID in children can be similar to those of COVID-19, but they can also include new symptoms or the persistence of previous symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of long COVID in children include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Loss of taste or smell
- Nausea and vomiting
- And More
Children may even develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). While the exact cause isn’t clear, many children who developed MIS-C have had COVID-19 before.
It’s important to note that the symptoms of long COVID in children can vary greatly from one child to another, and they can change or come and go over time.
The Prevalence of Long COVID in Children
The risk of severe COVID-19 is low in children, but the extent to which children can experience long-term symptoms post-infection is still uncertain. A recent study reviewed 14 studies on the topic, which reported on persistent symptoms in children and adolescents.
Despite the various studies, there are many limitations in the data collected, including a lack of clear case definition, inconsistent follow-up times, the absence of control groups, and the reliance on self-reported or parent-reported symptoms without proper clinical assessments.
Out of the 5 studies which included both infected and uninfected children, 2 couldn’t find evidence linking unresolved symptoms to SARS-CoV-2 infection in kids.
This lack of clear data shows that it’s difficult to determine if the long-term symptoms in children and adolescents are specifically associated with COVID or if they are related to the general pandemic experience (or something else entirely).
While it may be less common in children, that’s not to say that all kids are immune to experiencing prolonged effects of COVID-19, either through physical indications or psychological ones. It’s important for parents to be aware of the potential for long-term ill effects in their children, and to provide support if they’re showing any signs of lingering symptoms.
Diagnosing Long COVID in Children
Diagnosing long COVID in children can be challenging, as the symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, like depression for example. To diagnose long COVID in children, healthcare providers will likely conduct a physical examination and ask about the child’s symptoms and medical history. They may also order laboratory tests, such as blood tests or imaging studies, to rule out other conditions.
Either way, if you suspect your child is suffering from these symptoms, it’s important you discuss them with their doctor.
Tips for Parents of Children Experiencing Long COVID
If your child is experiencing long-term symptoms after having COVID-19, it’s important to seek medical attention and follow your healthcare provider’s advice.
There is currently no specific treatment for long COVID in children, but healthcare providers may suggest symptom management strategies to help children cope with their symptoms. These may include:
- Rest and relaxation
- Exercise and physical therapy
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Antidepressants or antianxiety medications
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other types of psychological support
It’s important for parents to work closely with their child’s healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment for their child’s specific needs.