Coronavirus Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 03, 2023
5 min read

Most people who get COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, will have only mild illness. But what exactly does that mean?

Mild COVID-19 cases still can make you feel lousy. But you should be able to rest at home and recover fully without a trip to the hospital. Here’s what to expect and how to take care of yourself.

Scientists and researchers are constantly tracking infections and recoveries. But they have data only on confirmed cases, so they can’t count people who don’t get COVID-19 tests. Experts also don’t have information about the outcome of every infection.

On average about 98.2% of known COVID-19 patients in the U.S. survive, but each individual’s chance of dying from the virus will vary depending on their age, whether they have an underlying health condition and whether they are vaccinated. While people who are vaccinated can still get infected, these “breakthrough” cases are rare, and vaccines dramatically reduce severe illness and death.

Not everyone who catches COVID-19 will notice symptoms. If you do get them, they may show up 2 to 14 days after your infection. And those symptoms can vary from one person to the next.

One of the most common signs is a fever, which for most adults is 100.4 F or higher. It means your body is trying to fight off an invader.

About 50% of people who become ill have a dry cough. That’s the kind that doesn’t bring up any mucus or phlegm. But about a third have a cough with mucus.

You also might feel very tired. Less commonly, your throat may be sore and your head might ache. Your muscles and joints could hurt, and you might get chills, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Some people who had COVID-19 said they had trouble taking deep breaths and felt like they had a tight band wrapped around their chest. Others have likened the illness to a bad cold. Still, others said it was the sickest they’d ever felt.

Loss of smell and taste have been reported in many cases. Some patients have skin rashes and darkened toes, called “COVID toes.”

You might feel short of breath as if you’d just run to grab a ringing phone. If so, call your doctor to ask about what you should do.

Early research suggested that it could take 2 weeks for your body to get over a mild illness or up to 6 weeks for severe or critical cases. Recovery varies for different people, depending on things like your age and overall health. Fatigue, headache, and trouble breathing were the symptoms most likely to linger.

CDC guidelines say that if you’ve been sick, you should isolate yourself at home until all of these things are true:

  • You haven’t had a fever for 24 hours without using a fever-reducing medicine.
  • Your symptoms are better, though they might not be totally gone.
  • It’s been at least 5 days since your symptoms started.

Regardless of when you end isolation, until at least day 11:

  • Avoid being around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.
  • Remember to wear a high-quality mask when indoors around others at home and in public.
  • Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask until you are able to discontinue masking

A small percentage of people who have the new coronavirus need to stay in the hospital to get help breathing. It may depend on things like your age and your overall health. This might last 2 weeks or more.

Some people who have severe COVID-19 get a complication called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can damage your lungs and make it very hard to breathe.

If you’re severely ill, you might need treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU). Many patients who spend time in the ICU lose weight and strength.

Your medical team will work with you to treat or manage these symptoms, including exercises to boost your strength.

Long COVID happens when a range of symptoms linger after recovery, and affect your quality of life. Experts estimate that 13 million Americans have long COVID. You may notice symptoms like:

  • Mild headaches
  • Overall feeling of being unwell
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Shortness of breath

If you’ve noticed symptoms of long COVID, or you begin to feel worse and develop new symptoms, call your doctor.

After you recover from COVID-19, it’s likely that you’ll have some protection from reinfection. But reinfection does happen. The CDC continues to learn more about:

  • Who could be at a higher risk of reinfection
  • How common are reinfections
  • How severe a reinfection is compared to your first case
  • How quickly a reinfection can occur after you recover
  • Transmission risks to others after reinfection

There’s no cure for COVID-19, although if you have to stay in the hospital, some medicines may shorten your recovery.

Some of the things you can do to speed your healing are similar to how you might take care of the flu or a bad cold.

Eat healthy foods. If you feel like eating, fuel your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to get better. Limit sugary or highly processed foods like cookies and sodas. If you don’t have an appetite, you don’t need to try to force food down.

Drinks lots of fluids. Do this even if you don’t feel like eating. Water is always a good pick.

Lower your fever. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen if you have a temperature or body aches. Be careful not to take more than a total of 3,000 milligrams every 24 hours, except in the case of pediatric patients. That includes acetaminophen alone as well as in medications like cold and flu pills and syrups.

Rest. Know that you’ll probably feel better eventually. If your symptoms do get worse, call your doctor.