You’re likely familiar with the term “long COVID” or the symptoms that people experience weeks to months after recovering from a COVID-19 infection. A recent study found that about 30% of people who contract COVID-19 experience long-haul symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath and loss of smell and taste. And while most of the studies have focused on adults, an alarming realization is that children have been getting long COVID, too.
One study from the United Kingdom found that tens of thousands of young people may have long COVID in the U.K., suggesting it may be more common in children than previously thought.
“Long COVID symptoms in children can be the same or different as in adults,” says Jordan Kridler, M.D., a pediatrician at Henry Ford Health. “They can have brain fog, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell and taste. Symptoms can also manifest as irritability, decreased focus and an inability to sleep. These could be symptoms they may or may not have had with their initial COVID-19 infection. If you have mild COVID-19 symptoms, your long-haul symptoms can be severe and if you had severe COVID-19 symptoms, your long-haul symptoms can be mild. It can go either way.”
Here, she shares more about long COVID in kids.
Q: Is there an age range that’s more common for kids to get long COVID?
A: “As of now, it seems like teens are more likely to get long COVID than young kids,” says Dr. Kridler. “However, they’re probably also more likely to tell their parents they’re not feeling well. Younger kids might not be able to vocalize their symptoms, so they could potentially have long COVID without their parents realizing it.”
Q: If your child gets COVID-19, what should you look out for, in terms of long COVID symptoms?
A: “I would look for any change in their baseline sleep and mental status, or in their ability to focus at school,” says Dr. Kridler. “If they’d previously been able to complete their soccer practice without any difficulty and now they’re having shortness of breath or fatigue, I would get them evaluated."
“The difficult thing about long COVID is that it doesn’t have a clear definition. And only a portion of children with long COVID seek medical attention. If symptoms are persisting weeks to months after their COVID-19 infection, that’s when we would call it long COVID.”
Q: Vaccination rates in children are lower than in adults. Could vaccination help prevent long COVID?
A: “This is something that is still being looked into,” says Dr. Kridler. “There is support for the theory that some long COVID symptoms tend to improve after patients received a COVID-19 vaccine, which triggers an antibody boost that helps clear the viral antigens more efficiently."
“We do know that children who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine are less likely to contract a severe case of COVID-19 than children who haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Q: Do we know if long COVID could affect kids later in life?
A: “It’s difficult to say with the experience we have had so far,” says Dr. Kridler. “I feel that certain symptoms will likely resolve themselves, while other symptoms could persist into adult life.”
Q: Are kids with underlying health issues more likely to get long COVID?
A: “I don’t know if I would say that children with underlying health issues are more likely to get long COVID,” says Dr. Kridler. “If, for example, you take a child with asthma and a child without asthma, the child who has asthma might have a more serious COVID-19 infection, but both children might be equally likely to get long COVID.”
Q: How should you talk to your child about COVID-19 if they get it?
A: “Of course you have to cater the conversation to your child’s age, but I would explain to them what’s going on,” says Dr. Kridler. “Tell them they have COVID-19 and that it’s a little more serious than the flu, but that they’re going to be okay. Tell them the reason they have to stay inside is to make sure other kids don’t get it. Give them age-appropriate information so they don’t feel like you’re keeping anything from them.”
Q: Is there anything parents can do to decrease the risk of their children getting long COVID?
A: “At this point, the main thing you can do is reduce their risk of getting COVID-19,” says Dr. Kridler. “If your child is old enough, get them vaccinated. Teach your child good hand-washing and mask-wearing hygiene. And if they have gotten COVID-19 and they’re not feeling well, get them checked out by a medical provider, especially if they’re having symptoms within that six-month period after their COVID-19 diagnosis.”
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Children ages 6 months and up can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Parents can schedule vaccine appointments for their children via MyChart or by calling their Henry Ford Health physician’s office. Read our FAQs about kids and the COVID-19 vaccines for more information about vaccines and boosters for children.
Dr. Jordan Kridler is a board-certified pediatrician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Royal Oak.