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COVID-19 symptoms in children

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Updated 19th July 2021 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the Government website for more up to date information.

Living through a pandemic is stressful for all kinds of reasons. If you’re a parent you might be anxious about your children catching the virus and falling ill.

The good news is: while children can get COVID-19, they tend to get less ill with the virus than adults do.

That said, it’s still a good idea to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of COVID-19 in children. If you suspect that your little one has the virus, you’ll need to get them tested as soon as possible.

COVID-19 symptoms in babies, toddlers and children

The symptoms of COVID-19 in babies, toddlers and children are the same as in adults. According to the NHS, the main symptoms to look out for are fever, continuous cough, and loss of taste and smell.

Fever

A fever is a high temperature. It’s a common symptom in adults and children who have the virus.

In children, a fever is usually classed as a temperature of 38°C or higher. Signs of a fever are your child feeling hot and sweaty on their back and/or chest. They might also tell you that they feel unwell.

On its own, a fever doesn’t necessarily point to COVID-19 but it can be a sign of other illnesses. If your child is under three months and has a temperature of 38°C, the NHS advises that you call 111 or your GP for advice.

It’s a good idea to buy a digital thermometer so you can keep track of your child’s temperature at home. Non-contact thermometers, like the iHealth thermometer can be used on the whole family too.

You can learn more about fevers in children on this page from the NHS.

New, continuous cough

If your child has developed a cough, and they’ve been coughing a lot, this could be a sign of COVID-19. A “continuous” cough is where you cough for more than an hour, or you have at least three coughing episodes in the space of a day.

A normal cough that’s not continuous isn’t considered a symptom of COVID-19.

Loss of taste and smell

One of the most distinctive symptoms caused by COVID-19 is the loss of taste and/or smell. The virus might also cause a change to your sense of taste or smell – in other words, food might taste different to normal.

This symptom might be harder to detect in children, but you might notice that they leave food they’d normally eat or seem less hungry. Depending on the age of your child they may be able to tell you if something tastes funny or different.

What should I do if my child is displaying COVID-19 symptoms?

The current NHS advice is to get a test for your child if they’re displaying any of the symptoms described above.

It’s OK to leave your home to get the test, but aside from that you and your child should stay home until you get the test result. If you live with other people, or if you’re in a support bubble with people your child has seen recently, they should stay home too.

If your child is displaying more severe symptoms, you should get medical advice. This page offers clear guidance on which types of symptoms require urgent care.

Should I send my child to school with a mild cough or cold?

If your child has one of the three symptoms of COVID-19, you should not send them to school. You should take them to get tested as soon as possible, then return home and wait for the test results to come through.

If your child has a cough or a cold, but isn’t displaying one of the main symptoms of COVID-19, it should be safe to let them leave the house. Remember: the cough caused by the virus is continuous. This means your child will be coughing for long periods, not just occasionally.

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Should my child wear a mask?

In the UK, masks or face coverings are recommended in crowded areas like on public transport. For children, the rules are slightly different.

Very young children shouldn’t wear masks for safety reasons. Older children are typically exempt from wearing masks, but they can wear them safely if they wish to. The exception to this is Scotland, where all children over five should wear a face covering.

Wearing a mask can be a good habit for your child to get into. This guide from GOV.UK explains how to make your own face covering – this can be a fun activity to do with your little ones.

For country-specific guidance, read on.

England

In England, children under 11 are exempt from wearing masks. Public Health England has said that children under three shouldn’t wear masks, because it isn’t safe.

Wales

In Wales, children under 11 are exempt from wearing masks.

Scotland

In Scotland, children under five are exempt from wearing masks.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, children under 13 are exempt from wearing masks in public indoor spaces, and children at primary school are exempt on public transport.

My child has a disability. Should they wear a mask?

If you live in England and your child is under 11, they don’t have to wear a mask. If your child is older than 11, they’ll need to wear a mask unless their disability prevents them from wearing one safely. Click here to read a list of exemptions on the GOV.UK website, under “When you do not need to wear a face covering”.

If you live elsewhere in the UK, the specific exemptions will be different. Click the links below to read the lists of exemptions for your area:

If you're displaying symptoms, you can get a free NHS test or you can request a Coronavirus (COVID-19) swab test kit from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. 

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References

www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/symptoms/coronavirus-in-children/
www.nhs.uk/conditions/fever-in-children/
www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own
https://gov.wales/face-coverings-guidance-public
www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-public-use-of-face-coverings/#Face%20covering%20exemptions
www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-face-coverings