NEWS

Does Your Kid Have a Cold or Omicron? What Omicron Symptoms Look Like in Kids

Mom and child wearing masks at pediatrician's office

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Key Takeaways

  • We still have a lot to learn about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, including how it affects children.
  • However, experts believe the new variant is less severe than previous variants, meaning most children experience only mild illness.
  • Compliance with recommended COVID-19 precautions and vaccination is the key to defeating Omicron, doctors say.

With Omicron now confirmed as the leading COVID-19 variant in the US , it’s natural for parents to worry about how Omicron will affect their little ones. For every child who has a sniffle, there’s a parent wondering if their child has COVID-19. While some symptoms of COVID-19 look similar to the common cold, fortunately, there are ways to test and distinguish between the two.

What Omicron Looks Like in Kids

So far, most of what we know about Omicron comes from data from infected adults. "[The data] indicates that Omicron is less severe than Delta but still more than 'just a cold' for unvaccinated adults," says Kelly Fradin, MD, pediatrician and author of Parenting in a Pandemic: How to Help Your Family Through COVID-19.

For kids, symptoms of Omicron appear similar to that of other COVID-19 variants. “Omicron tends to attack the upper airways more than the lower airways,” says Eric Ball, MD, a pediatrician with Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We are seeing a lot of children present with a very bad sore throat, coughing, nasal congestion, and fever.”

In some children, the symptoms of the Omicron variant are similar to cold symptoms, Dr. Ball says, but adds that COVID-19 symptoms are typically more severe than the usual stuffiness, runny nose, cough, and sore throat. "We are seeing high fevers and difficulty breathing due to COVID-19 infection," Dr. Ball says.

Kelly Fradin, MD

We continue to see many asymptomatic children who test positive for Omicron. I haven't seen children becoming more sick with Omicron than with prior variants.

— Kelly Fradin, MD

Many pediatric COVID-19 patients have croup-like symptoms, Dr. Ball adds. “They have swelling of the upper airway, which makes breathing difficult. Some of these children need to go to the hospital or receive special medication to help them breathe more comfortably.”

Dr. Fradin's pediatric Omicron patients have been more likely to present with a sore throat, croupy cough (barking in nature), and headache. "Notably, we continue to see many asymptomatic children who test positive for Omicron," she adds. "I haven't seen children becoming more sick with Omicron than with prior variants. "

Preventing Omicron in Kids

Dr. Fradin encourages parents to test early and often to identify cases early and prevent exposure in the community. The sooner you detect COVID-19, the sooner your child can return to school or daycare as the quarantine period begins when the test is positive, she adds.

Dr. Fradin acknowledges that most parents are struggling—tired of living through a pandemic and frustrated with constant negative news and fluctuating guidelines, but urges those who remain unvaccinated to consider full COVID-19 vaccination, including a booster dose if eligible.

The COVID-19 vaccine provides robust protection from hospitalization and severe cases of infection, Dr. Fradin says. "We have data that vaccination reduces the risk of COVID-19 complications like MIS-C and it's likely that vaccination also decreases the risk of long COVID and the possibility of COVID-19-triggering autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes," she explains.

Although COVID-19 vaccinations haven't been approved for children under the age of 5, there are other options that can help keep your kids safe. "I'd encourage parents to take reasonable precautions to protect their children—following quarantine guidelines, testing, masking, and vaccination. But then try to relax and remember you've done your best," Dr. Fradin says. "Your child may still get sick given how contagious Omicron is, but the likelihood is that they will be OK."

Eric Ball, MD

The best way to defeat this variant is prevention, through vaccination, mask wearing, and isolation and quarantine of sick and exposed individuals.

— Eric Ball, MD

When to See a Pediatrician

If you suspect your child might be infected with Omicron, it's best to confirm with a test, either at home or at a doctor's office, says Dr. Ball. "Unless your child is an imminent danger or severely ill, it's best to avoid the emergency department so that people who need it for actual emergencies can have access," he adds.

For a mild infection, you can use a fever-reducing medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol). If your child is 6 months or older, you can also give them ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Aside from that, it's all about fluids and rest, says Dr. Ball. If your child tests positive, you'll need to isolate with your child to make sure they don't spread the disease to other people. If you have questions about any symptoms your child may have, call your pediatrician.

What This Means For You

Many parents are concerned about the Omicron variant, so if you're feeling anxious, you're not alone. Try to remember that you can take several measures to keep your family safe from COVID-19 infection, such as vaccination, masking, and quarantining when necessary. If you still have concerns, or are worried about your child's health in general, reach out to their pediatrician.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID data tracker: Variant proportions.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Children and COVID-19: State-level data report.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens.

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more. Claire is passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues and helping people experiencing them not feel so alone.