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COVID infection - managing symptoms in children

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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Classic symptoms of COVID-19 consist of a continuous cough, fever, and loss of sense of smell or taste. However, the symptoms in children have quickly changed to include sore throat, diarrhea, headache, tiredness, muscle and joint aches, conjunctivitis, nausea or vomiting, and runny nose.

It's much rarer for serious illness from COVID to afflict those under 18, but not impossible. If they experience shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, this is a reason to seek urgent medical attention, as you would in other illnesses.

Post-COVID syndrome, or long COVID as most people know it, can occur in children. Specific symptoms, such as cough, difficulty breathing or exercising, concentration difficulty, or immense fatigue, can persist for three months after the initial infection.

How can I help my child's symptoms?

Cough can be managed with cough medicines. Warm fluids can also help alleviate the symptoms of dry cough. Honey in children over one year can help relieve a dry throat caused by coughing.

Fevers can be managed with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which may help to lower temperature and treat aches and pains.

Sore throats can be managed with lozenges or sprays, which help numb the pain. Painkillers and warm fluids can also help.

Antibiotics do not work against COVID-19 or any viruses. They will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery. In some cases, a superseded bacterial infection may occur. Talk to your doctor if your child is developing signs of a bacterial infection or their symptoms are worsening.

When should I take them to the doctor?

Reasons to seek immediate medical attention include difficulty breathing or breathlessness, if they are confused upon waking up, if fever persists despite maximum doses of anti-fever medication, and if they are dehydrated from frequent vomiting, diarrhea, or lack of fluid intake.

You can go to the emergency department or call 911 for an ambulance. Those with asthma, insulin-dependent diabetes, or other health conditions are at higher risk of serious illness.

If you think your child is suffering from the post-COVID syndrome, book an appointment with your doctor to discuss this.

Is there anything I can do to prevent infection?

The pandemic (and every winter preceding it) has proven how difficult it is to prevent viral illness from spreading between children at nursery or school – they sit close to each other all day and play and chat without much concept of personal space. So, it's difficult to prevent the spread by telling them to keep a distance and wear masks.

If they are old enough, the best thing you can do is to get them vaccinated. If they've had COVID-19, they need to wait 28 days from when they had a positive test or first developed symptoms.

If they are on public transport or in crowded venues, it makes sense to protect themselves and others by wearing a mask if able and keeping their distance. They should keep their distance if they're unwell, especially from elderly or frail family members, and wash their hands thoroughly and often.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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