Decreased lung function from COVID persists in children

Story at a glance

  • Shortness of breath is a common symptom of COVID-19.

  • The infection can decrease lung function, especially in patients with long COVID.

  • A study in children focuses on imaging and lung function tests in uninfected, recovered and long COVID patients.

A COVID infection can cause damage to lung tissue, and researchers are interested in studying the extent to which COVID infection lowers lung functioning and how long after an infection that can last.

In a study published in Radiology, scientists look at lung structure and functioning in children who have and have not had COVID-19 and in children with long COVID — when symptoms last for 12 weeks or more. They analyzed MRI scans to get an idea of the extent of lung damage.

The study had 54 children and adolescent participants in total with nine healthy controls, 29 children who recovered from COVID and 25 who had long COVID. The average age was 11 years old. The team measured V/Q match — ventilation and perfusion — which is a measure for lung function that estimates and compares air and blood flow.

In the healthy control group of children, V/Q match was 81 percent. It was lower in children who recovered from COVID and who had long COVID, at 62 and 60 percent, respectively.

There were also some differences in these measurements by the length of time since infection: 63 percent for an infection less than 180 days ago, 63 percent for between 180 and 360 days ago, 41 percent for patients infected 360 days ago.

There are some limitations to the study; the MRI scans and V/Q match estimates are compared across subgroups and the baseline measurements for each patient were not available or included. The sample size of the study is also small.

However, for pediatricians and family members who have children with COVID cases, this information can help understand the long-term health effects of a COVID infection.

“Persistent symptoms after COVID still cause diagnostic odysseys, and this is especially true for young people,” said physician Ferdinand Knieling, the study lead and a specialist in pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University Hospital Erlangen in Germany, to Imaging Technology News. “Our findings illustrate that caring for these patients is a multidisciplinary challenge.”

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