Holistic approach to children and young people with long COVID

A promising new study has been awarded funding to develop a programme for children and young people living with long COVID, which combines specialist respiratory physiotherapy and psychology.

Led by Dr Samatha Sonnappa, paediatric respiratory consultant, the study has been funded by the charity Action Medical Research as part of their scheme to support research on long COVID in children and young people.

Currently, approximately 2-8% of children and young people who are diagnosed with COVID go onto develop long COVID, which include symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, low mood and anxiety.

Over half of children and young people with long COVID also experience anxiety and low mood, impacting their emotional well-being and leaving them feeling disconnected from education, friends and their usual activities.

Current services

There is currently no standardised programme for children and young people to support both the psychological and physical aspects associated with long COVID.

However, a pan-London multidisciplinary group was set up in 2021 to offer patients with tailored assessments, support and rehabilitation. Current strategies include supporting children and young people through digital methods such as patient information leaflets and online psychoeducation group sessions.

Although the link between mental health and breathing pattern dysfunction in long COVID is known, there are no published or ongoing studies which jointly treat these two related issues. Dr Sonnappa’s research team aims to remedy that.

Dr Sonnappa explained why research is needed and said:

“Breathlessness, anxiety, and low mood are common symptoms in over a third of long COVID patients. These symptoms may be interrelated, exacerbate each other and impact on quality of life in terms of missing school, social and other activities.

“We aim to develop a holistic interdisciplinary intervention that will improve breathing pattern, reduce anxiety, and increase age appropriate functional activities at a crucial educational and developmental stage.”

Developing the programme

The research team will produce an intervention which uses both psychological and physiological principles to support children and young people with long COVID.  They will draw from interventions already in use with other clinical groups, such as patients with respiratory, anxiety or chronic fatigue symptoms.

To ensure the programme is both feasible and acceptable to young people, the group will co-produce the programme with children living with long COVID alongside their parents.

Once the programme is developed patients will be randomised to receive either standard treatment only or standard treatment plus the programme.

Dr Sonnappa said: “We are pleased and grateful to AMR for granting our research group this award as it will go a long way in establishing a standard of care for children and young people with long COVID.”

The study will be led by Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals in collaboration with colleagues from the pan-London long COVID MDT, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London.


To find out more about this study please contact us.