Recovering From COVID - Including Long COVID

Recovering From COVID - Including Long COVID

Most children who get COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and get better quickly. But a small number of older children may have symptoms that last longer. This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 condition or long COVID. Find out what is known about long COVID and how to care for a child who is taking longer to get better. 

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How can I support my child recovering from COVID-19 infection?

For most children with mild COVID-19, they will be back to normal within a week. A small number of children might take up to 2 weeks to feel back to normal.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep.

Encourage them to eat and drink normally. 

You don't need to restrict your child from doing activities they feel like doing. Be guided by them.

Your child can go back to their early childhood centre or school 7 days after testing positive - depending on when other household members test positive. 

See more information about testing positive and self-isolating

What is long COVID?

Most children with COVID-19 will have a mild illness and get better quickly. Long COVID or post-COVID-19 condition are the terms used to describe symptoms that continue for more than 12 weeks after a positive test. 

For a child or young person to have a diagnosis of post-COVID-19 condition, their symptoms need to be having an impact on their everyday functioning, and cannot be explained by another condition. 

Nearly all children will fully recover and return to normal health.

What is known about long COVID in children?

Scientists and health professionals are still learning about long COVID, but studies so far have found:

  • children are much less likely to have long COVID than adults
  • children recover faster than adults
  • it mostly affects children over the age of 10 - it's very rare in younger children

What are the symptoms of long COVID?

The following are some of the symptoms in people who have taken longer to recover from COVID-19.

The most common symptoms in children are:

  • changes to sense of taste and smell
  • unusual tiredness/fatigue
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating/brain fog

Children can also have:

  • muscle aches
  • joint pain
  • cough
  • low mood
  • dizziness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • chest pain
  • breathlessness
  • fast-beating or pounding heart
  • new or worsening urinary symptoms

Symptoms can sometimes come and go and will vary between children. For example, one child may struggle to complete their homework while another may feel too tired to go to school.

Some children and young people have similar ongoing symptoms after other viral infections (such as glandular fever). 

There is a rare condition that affects a very small number of children about 2 to 6 weeks after their first COVID-19 symptoms. This is called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). If your child has a fever and looks very unwell, seek urgent medical help.

Find out about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children

How can I care for my child with ongoing COVID symptoms?

If symptoms continue beyond 4 weeks, it's important to see your child's GP.

Your child may need to rest more than usual, and it's important they get enough sleep.

Some things you can do to help your child

  • have a routine in place
  • make sure they are drinking well
  • encourage your child to sit up out of bed some of the time
  • do gentle exercise, even if it's just walking to the letterbox and back
  • talk to your child's early childhood centre or school about how they can gradually ease back into their education
  • keep in touch with family and friends, whether it's in person, over the phone or on video

Aim for gradual gains

Being away from school for a long time, lack of exercise and being isolated from friends can have a negative impact on your child’s wellbeing. It’s important to gradually incorporate these back into your child’s life as they recover. Aim for gradual gains, remain positive about their recovery and always seek help if you're not sure what to do.

See a GP if your child has ongoing pain

If your child is miserable with pain, you can give them paracetamol to make them more comfortable. You must follow the dosage instructions on the bottle. It is dangerous to give more than the recommended dose. If the pain continues, see your child's GP. Never give your child aspirin as this may increase the risk of Reye syndrome, which is a rare and serious illness.

Read about the safe use of paracetamol in children

When should I seek help for my child?

If your child has ongoing symptoms you can usually care for them at home. Your child should slowly improve.

Take your child to their GP if:

  • they are getting worse
  • they get a fever
  • they get new symptoms
  • they are not improving after 4 to 6 weeks

If your child becomes very unwell, call an ambulance by dialling 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries) and ask for urgent medical help.

More KidsHealth content on COVID-19

See KidsHealth's section on COVID-19

References

Do kids get long COVID? And how often? A paediatrician looks at the data - an article by University of Sydney child and adolescent health senior lecturer Philip Britton. 

Acknowledgements

The content on this page has been developed following wide consultation with paediatricians and other child health professionals. Scientists and health professionals are still learning about long COVID, and this page will be continuously updated as new evidence emerges. 

This page last reviewed 06 April 2022.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it