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Safely Returning Your Child to Sports after COVID-19 Infection

Monday, March 28, 2022 3:22 PM

By Angelina Campanile

No one likes to be benched–especially not energetic, competitive young athletes.

The pandemic has forced thousands of kids to take a seat on the dreaded sidelines. If your child recently had COVID, they’re probably aching to get back on their feet. But ending their timeout prematurely can pose a risk to your superstar’s health.

Jason Robin, MD, Cardiologist with the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute says it’s imperative to be aware of cardiovascular complications that may come with returning to sports following COVID-19 infection.

It’s common for athletes, young or old, to gasp for air after a hard workout. But such difficulty breathing can also be a symptom of a condition called myocarditis.

Myocarditis is inflammation, or swelling, of the heart. It has garnered much attention from cardiologists over the pandemic after an increase of cases in athletes recovering from COVID.

Most children with COVID experience moderate symptoms such as a few days of fever, muscle aches, chills, or lethargy. In these cases, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 10-14 days without cardiovascular activity before easing back into their sport.

During this time, screen your child for symptoms of myocarditis, which can include:

  • Chest pain
  • More shortness of breath than usual
  • Irregular breathing rhythms and/or heartbeats
  • Dizziness or fainting

If your child demonstrates any of these symptoms, contact a health care professional immediately. Their doctor may want to conduct an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to screen for irregular heartbeats, take a chest x-ray to look for any fluid in or around your child’s heart, or order a Cardiac MRI to rule out inflammation.

Children with COVID who experience severe symptoms and hospitalization should consult their doctor regardless for a full checkup and evaluation before returning to any physical activity.

The AAP recommends athletes with confirmed myocarditis limit strenuous exercise for three to six months to allow inflammation to resolve. Their return would depend on blood and image testing confirming the inflammation is resolved.

Myocarditis is not an easy diagnosis. An EKG of your varsity athlete may look very different from the heart of a middle-aged man. Competitive athletes, even kids on their middle school track team, often have “abnormal-looking” hearts as the heart endures physiological changes in response to their training. That’s why it’s important to closely monitor how your child feels before they jump back into the game.

Sports Cardiology Clinic
A new cardiology program catering to high school and college athletes returning to activity after COVID-19 is now available through NorthShore’s Cardiovascular Institute. Click here for more information.