What Does Omicron Look Like in Kids?

Sick child.

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Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant are increasing in children.
  • Symptoms in kids are slightly different than they are in adults.
  • Croup is a common Omicron symptom in kids.

The rapid rise of Omicron in the U.S. and across the world has made it very clear that this COVID-19 variant isn’t the same as past strains of the virus. Not only is Omicron highly contagious, reports suggest that its symptoms are also slightly different than other COVID-19 variants, including Delta.

One thing is clear: Omicron infections are rapidly increasing in children. More than 580,000 pediatric COVID-19 cases were reported the week ending January 6—a 78% increase over the cases reported the week prior.

While there isn’t a lot of extensive research on Omicron in children just yet, there is some early research and anecdotal reports that paint a picture of what it’s like to be infected with this variant.

Here’s what you need to know about Omicron symptoms in children.

Omicron Symptoms in Kids

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t updated its COVID-19 symptoms since February 2021. That list includes:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

But a CDC report released in mid-December analyzed data from 43 people who had COVID-19 caused by Omicron earlier that month and found that some symptoms were more common than others. Those included:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Headache

Maya Ramagopal, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, told Verywell that “symptoms [in kids] can be similar to that seen in adults.”

Daniel S. Ganjian, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in California, told Verywell that his practice hasn’t seen as many cases of children losing their sense of taste and smell with Omicron as they did with other variants of the virus.

“What we usually see is fever, cough, and runny nose—that’s Omicron,” he said. “Sometimes we see vomiting and diarrhea, too.”

Ganjian said that children with Omicron may also have croup, a harsh-sounding cough. “It sounds like a barking seal when they cough,” he added.

What Is Croup?

Croup is a common illness in children that causes swelling of the voice box (aka larynx) and windpipe (trachea). That swelling causes the airway below the vocal cords to narrow, making breathing noisy and difficult. Croup is most common in kids between the ages of three months to five years. After that age, it’s not very common because the windpipe in older children is larger and swelling is less likely to interfere with their breathing.

Croup is usually caused by an infection and is more common in the fall and winter than at other times of the year.

“Omicron causes an infection of the upper airway, causing a characteristically barky or seal-like cough,” Ramagopal said. “Since the upper airway is narrower in children than in adults, even a slight swelling causes symptoms of croup.”

What This Means For You

The Omicron variant has spread rapidly across the country and is causing cold-like symptoms in children. If your child develops signs of COVID-19, including croup, contact your pediatrician about the next steps.

How to Treat Croup in Kids

There are a few things you can do to treat COVID-induced croup in your child:

  • Take your child into the cool air. This can help soothe their airways and make it easier for them to breathe, Ramagopal said.
  • Use a vaporizer in your child’s room at night.  Warm, moist air generated by a vaporizer helps relax the vocal cords, Ganjian noted.
  • Hold them in a steamy bathroom. It’s the same concept as the vaporizer. “Hot steam created by running the shower can help alleviate sudden [symptoms],” Ramagopal said.
  • Try to keep your child calm. “They usually breathe better when they’re not crying,” Ganjian said.

When to Call Your Pediatrician

If your child develops croup or other signs of COVID-19, it’s a good idea to consult with your pediatrician about next steps, Ganjian said.

“You can’t assume it’s COVID-19 or 'just' COVID-19,” he said. “I just had a patient with COVID-19 and RSV together, and they only had croup-like symptoms. That’s why we like to test for these things."

You’ll also want to call your doctor as soon as possible if your child develops a high fever, is lethargic, and has a sore throat that’s so severe they’re not able to eat or drink, Ramagopal said.

In general, most children who contract Omicron do just fine, Ganjian noted. But you’ll want to be on the lookout for signs of a more serious infection, just in case. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

5 Sources
Verywell Health 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. American Academy of Pediatrics. Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report.

  2. World Health Organization. Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 (Omicron) Variant — United States, December 1–8, 2021.

  5. American Academy of Pediatricians. Croup and your young child.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.