Experts refer to COVID-19 symptoms that last for a period of months as “long-haul COVID-19” or “long COVID-19.” Most children who catch COVID-19 have either no symptoms or minor ones that only last a short time. In a study published by The Lancet, fewer than 1 in 20 children who tested positive had COVID-19 side effects that lasted longer than 4 weeks. By 8 weeks, most self-reported symptoms in children seemed to ease. A slightly larger study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that about 1 in 25 children reported at least one symptom that lasted longer than 12 weeks.
We need more studies on long-term COVID-19 symptoms in both vaccinated and unvaccinated children to draw firm conclusions. Based on what we now know, it’s unlikely that your child will have this prolonged condition. But it’s still important to understand how it could affect them.
What Causes Long COVID-19?
Experts don’t yet know what causes some kids to have long-term COVID-19 symptoms. While it’s clear that certain risk factors (like obesity and other underlying disease) may put someone at risk for serious illness from COVID-19, there’s no clear link between these conditions and long COVID-19 symptoms. Long-haul COVID-19 symptoms could still happen in children who had mild or no COVID-19 symptoms.
More research will help understand the possible risks tied to this condition.
Long COVID-19 Symptoms in Kids
Your child may have a variety of side effects after a case of COVID-19. Experts at King’s College London used caretaker-reported data from 1,734 children aged 5-17 to track the most common long-term symptoms in kids. From September 2020 to February 2021, the most frequent symptoms included:
- Fatigue (55%)
- Fever in children aged 5-11 (43.7%)
- Headache (62.2%)
- Sore throat in kids aged 12-17 (51%)
Out of the children in this study, 37 went to the hospital for care, but the data didn’t list any deaths. Experts also found that older children (aged 12-17) were more likely to have long COVID-19 symptoms than younger children (aged 5-11).
Kids might have other long-term COVID-19 symptoms such as:
- “Brain fog,” or trouble thinking or concentrating
- Chest pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Heart palpitations
- Joint or muscle pain
- Lightheadedness when standing up
- Loss of smell or taste
- Trouble breathing
Your child’s specific symptoms may depend on the intensity of their illness. If they were in the intensive care unit (ICU) or on a ventilator, they may be more likely to have weak muscles, fatigue, a fast heart rate, and brain fog. These are all common side effects in people who’ve been in the ICU.
Long-term COVID-19 symptoms might seem similar or overlap with other conditions like:
Chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis). This condition has no known cause but may look like long-haul COVID-19 symptoms. Chronic fatigue syndrome can cause intense lightheadedness, fatigue, brain fog, or something called “post-exertional malaise” (PEM).
PEM can happen after your child does more physical or mental activity than they’re used to. After, they may feel extremely tired, have headaches, or be sensitive to light and sound for days.
Orthostatic Intolerance. Those with long-haul COVID-19, especially children, might develop this condition. Orthostatic intolerance can make your child feel lightheaded, weak, dizzy, or faint when they sit or stand for more than a few minutes. This happens due to reduced blood flow to their brain.
With this condition, your child may not have the energy to be as active as they were before. They might need to sit down while in the shower or lie down after certain activities.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Child
Since researchers don’t know much about the causes and treatment for long-haul COVID-19, it may be difficult to find solutions for your child’s symptoms. Blood tests and scans usually don’t offer many answers.
But thankfully, children aren’t as likely to pass COVID-19 on to one another. Overall, your child isn’t likely to deal with severe long-term symptoms.
If you suspect they may have any of these side effects, it’s best to contact your pediatrician right away. Many hospitals around the United States have created post-COVID care clinics to treat long-term symptoms. Your doctor can help you find one for your child, if needed.