November 09, 2020

COVID-19: How to Treat Coronavirus 2019 at Home

The majority of people who get infected with the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) virus experience mild or asymptomatic (no symptoms) disease which can be treated at home. So if you're experiencing the tell-tale signs of the virus, what should you do to feel better? A proportion of people may experience more severe disease warranting hospital admission. This article discusses mild disease which is easily treated at home.

In this article:
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Looking after yourself at home (with COVID-19)
Medications to ease symptoms of COVID-19
When to seek medical attention

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms

The common symptoms of COVID-19, which usually begin 2 to 14 days after you come into contact with the virus, include:
Other symptoms may include:
  • Sore throat
  • Chills, sometimes with shaking (rigors)
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea. See the separate article, Acute Diarrhoeal Disease, for more details.
If you experience fever, a new continuous cough or any of the above-listed symptoms, you should self-isolate immediately. Those experiencing a mild illness do not need to seek medical attention.


However, you should call your doctor’s office or hospital or the national emergency number (e.g. 999, 911, etc) right away if you experience the following:
  • Unable to cope with your symptoms at home.
  • Your condition getting worse.
  • You still have fever, are feeling generally unwell or have other symptoms after a week.
  • You are unable to do everyday tasks such as looking at your phone, reading or getting out of bed.
See the separate articles, What are Asymptomatic and Mild COVID-19?, and also see What are Moderate, Severe and Critical COVID-19?, for more details.

Emergency Symptoms

Call a doctor or hospital or the national emergency number (e.g. 999, 911, etc) right away if you have one or more of these COVID-19 symptoms: You need medical care as soon as possible. Call your doctor’s office or hospital before you go in. Telling them you have COVID helps them prepare to treat you and also protect medical staff and other patients.

Strokes (cerebrovascular disease) have also been reported in some people who have COVID-19. Remember FAST symptoms:
  • Face. Is one side of the person’s face numb or drooping? Is their smile lopsided?
  • Arms. Is one arm weak or numb? If they try to raise both arms, does one arm sag?
  • Speech. Can they speak clearly? Ask them to repeat a sentence.
  • Time. Every minute counts when someone shows signs of a stroke. Call the national emergency number (e.g. 911) right away.
Anyone who exhibits the FAST symptoms, as listed above, may be having or just had a stroke. They need to see a doctor urgently.

Looking after yourself at home (with COVID-19)

As with other viruses such as colds and flu, taking things easy and looking after yourself, including to ensure bedrest, is crucial to your recovery. You should:
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drink enough water so that your pee is a pale, clear colour. Avoid alcohol as this will make you more dehydrated.
  • Get plenty of rest. You should isolate yourself at home if you have any symptoms of coronavirus and avoid any strenuous activity whilst you are unwell.
  • Use over-the-counter medicines to treat some of your symptoms. See 'Medications to ease symptoms of COVID-19' below.
See the separate article, Natural Remedies for the Common Cold, for more on home remedies for colds and flu to help speed up your recovery.

Medications to ease symptoms of COVID-19

There is currently neither a cure for COVID-19 nor a vaccine against it. The aim of treatment is to manage and reduce symptoms until you have recovered. Fortunately, most people - around 80% - have an asymptomatic (no symptoms) or mild symptomatic infection which can be treated at home (see the separate article, What are Asymptomatic and Mild COVID-19?). In such cases, you should immediately self-isolate at home for at least one week until you have recovered. You may have to self-isolate for longer, if necessary. Always get the latest advise from your doctor or other healthcare provider.

One in five people who contract COVID-19 will require hospital care. Around 15% of cases experience a severe infection requiring oxygen to help with respiratory symptoms. 5% experience critical infections, requiring ventilation. Those at a higher risk of severe or critical infections include older people and those with underlying health conditions (see the separate article, What are Moderate, Severe and Critical COVID-19?).

Painkillers

For most viral infections, including flu and the common cold, simple painkillers such as paracetamol and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen are widely recommended. Other home remedies are also quite helpful too.

Earlier in the year, in March 2020, France's health minister, Olivier VĂ©ran, had commented that NSAIDs could increase the risk of severe COVID-19 infection and complications. Following this, the UK's Commission on Human Medicines drew up an urgent expert working group to look at the medical scientific evidence. On 14th April, they published a guidance stating that: "There is currently insufficient evidence to establish a link between use of ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and susceptibility to contracting COVID-19 or the worsening of its symptoms. Patients can take paracetamol or ibuprofen when self-medicating for symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever and headache."

Therefore, it is absolutely safe to take Ibuprofen or any other NSAID, for symptoms of COVID-19.

Other symptoms

Some of the medications and treatments you might use to treat colds and flu will also help with coronavirus symptoms. Cough medicines or cough suppressants can help reduce your cough. Throat lozenges and remedies like honey and lemon may improve a sore throat. See the separate article, Natural Remedies for the Common Cold, for more details.

Antibiotics

If you have antibiotics lying around at home, do not take them to treat coronavirus. As this is a virus, antibiotics will not improve coronavirus. You should never take antibiotics which have not been prescribed by a doctor for a certain condition.

Antibacterial handwashes (unless they're also labelled as antiviral), cleaning products and hand sanitisers also won't be effective in killing the virus on surfaces or your hands for the same reasons, unless they are clearly alcohol-based or antiviral.

Traditional remedies

There are many natural 'cures' and herbal remedy ideas floating around the internet and in health stores. Currently, we are not aware of any remedy to cure COVID-19, although some may soothe its symptoms (see links above). Do not be fooled by the 'miracle' treatments some people are trying to sell.

When to seek medical attention

If you are unable to cope at home, your illness is worsening, your symptoms have not improved after seven days, or you have any of the symptoms listed under 'Emergency symptoms' above, then you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If there is an emergency and you need an ambulance, call your national emergency number (e.g. 999, 911, etc) and tell the call handler the situation, including that you have coronavirus.

Any routine medical or dental appointments which you had previously booked for should normally be cancelled whilst you are sick and at home self-isolating. If you are asked to attend a routine medical or dental appointment whilst still isolating or you have any concerns, then call your doctor or healthcare provider or hospital first to clarify things.

Reference(s)
1). World Health Organization (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Available Online.
2). Centers for Disease Control (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19). Available Online.
3). Mayo Clinic. Treating COVID-19 at home: Care tips for you and others. Available Online.

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