The vast majority of people with the COVID-19 virus develop mild to moderate symptoms. They will be able to recover at home.
“There is always a heightened sense of alarm when a family member, friend or neighbor contracts COVID-19, because it is a potentially severe illness with risk of severe complications,” said Dr. Karan Shukla, a family physician at Novant Health Randolph Family Medicine in Charlotte. “But, most people do well recovering at home with basic symptomatic care management, attention to rest, maintaining adequate hydration and caloric intake to meet the energy needs required to fight off illness.”
Shukla answered questions on how to take care of yourself, or others, who are experiencing mild to moderate cases of COVID-19:
Which pain relievers should you take for body aches and pains?
In general, taking acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve) ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) can help lower fevers, help manage muscle aches and body pains and make the course of the illness a little bit more tolerable.
Make sure you're following dosing guidelines on the label. Read exactly what the dose of the medication is, and that you don't have any health history that should prevent you from using these medications. Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was some question as to whether anti-inflammatories like naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) were potentially going to make the COVID-19 infection worse, but subsequent follow-up testing and studies have not demonstrated that.
Should you take cold medicines for respiratory problems?
A lot of the over-the-counter cough medications generally are helpful, but not as helpful as we would like to think of managing symptoms of cough. I recommend my patients who are recovering at home use a vapor rub to help relieve coughs, make sure that they have an air humidifier and use steam inhalation to decrease nasal congestion. Honey can be used to help soothe sore throats and manage cough symptoms as well.
Be aware that lower respiratory tract symptoms in COVID-19 illnesses need to be monitored carefully. Chest tightness, chest congestion, a chesty cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath may indicate that you're dealing with more than just an upper respiratory tract illness. It could potentially be a lower respiratory tract illness, which could be considered pneumonia.
Do you need extra fluids when you’re home with COVID? What particular liquids are most helpful?
Staying hydrated is very important. During illness, our body loses more fluid through fevers, coughing and breathing rapidly. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea can add to those fluid losses. With COVID-19 specifically, loss of taste or loss of smell may interfere with someone's appetite or desire to eat or drink. Staying hydrated is very critical at maintaining our bodies and metabolic processes, and keeping our respiratory secretions loose. When we are dehydrated, our secretions become thicker, which makes it difficult to clear and can lead to increased risk of pneumonia.
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In general, have clear liquids readily available to sip, including those that contain electrolytes, such as sports drinks Gatorade and Powerade. Be wary that some sports drinks are high in sugar content and artificial flavoring, which can add unneeded calories. Try making a healthier version yourself by using a combination of 100% fruit juice, coconut water, and a pinch of salt. Pedialyte, normally used to treat or prevent children from dehydration, can be used by adults, too.
How much liquid should someone drink to remain hydrated?
At a minimum, you should drink 8 to 16 ounces of fluids every hour when you’re recovering. If you aren't able to tolerate drinking large quantities, make sure you are having adequate urine output and that you're urinating every three to four hours. You want the urine to be clear, not dark and concentrated. Those could be signs that you're dehydrated.
What about isolating the sick person from others in the home?
At the earliest signs of illness, start avoiding contact with people within your own home. Avoid sitting with people in your home to eat or congregate. Identify a particular bathroom you can use other people not having symptoms don’t use, to avoid cross contamination. I strongly encourage everyone in the home to wear masks at that point, because you do not know who has the infection and who is in the process of developing symptoms. Clean all commonly touched surfaces, such as hardback chairs, table tops, remote controls and doorknobs.
When will I begin to feel better, in general?
A person with mild upper respiratory tract illness would be expected to have a few days of symptoms. They may start with a stopped-up nose or inability to smell, maybe a little irritated throat. They may go on to develop fever, or chills or just not feel well. Typically the process for a mild case of COVID-19 plays out over the course of a week to 10 days.
What are the warning signs that I should seek emergency treatment?
It's important that at the onset of symptoms, take into account the date they started. Monitor and write down your symptoms. Be as descriptive as possible, so you can observe how the symptoms evolve. If you start experiencing worsening or high-grade fever above 102 degrees, or develop worsening body aches or chills or sweats, that would indicate the illnesses is becoming more severe.
Worsening lower respiratory tract symptoms include difficulty breathing, difficulty doing basic tasks around the house without huffing and puffing, getting winded easily, chest pain, nausea accompanied with vomiting and persistent, loose stools. Also, any changes in your mental status, like becoming confused or lethargic.
Call 911 immediately or call ahead to your local emergency facility if someone is showing any of these signs:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face