The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever, coughing, and breathing problems. Unless you have severe symptoms, you can most likely treat them at home, the way you would for a cold or the flu. Most people recover from COVID-19 without the need for hospital care. Call your doctor to ask about whether you should stay home or get medical care in person.
Scientists are trying to make new medicines and test some existing drugs to see whether they can treat COVID-19. In the meantime, there are a number of things that can relieve symptoms, both at home and at the hospital.
At-Home Coronavirus Treatment
If your symptoms are mild enough that you can recover at home, you should:
- Rest. It can make you feel better and may speed your recovery.
- Stay home. Don't go to work, school, or public places.
- Drink fluids. You lose more water when you're sick. Dehydration can make symptoms worse and cause other health problems.
- Monitor. If your symptoms get worse, call your doctor right away. Don't go to their office without calling first. They might tell you to stay home, or they may need to take extra steps to protect staff and other patients.
- Ask your doctor about over-the-counter medicines that may help, like acetaminophen to lower your fever.
The most important thing to do is to avoid infecting other people, especially those who are over 65 or who have other health problems.
- Try to stay in one place in your home. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if you can.
- Tell others you're sick so they keep their distance.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow.
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth if you can.
- Wash regularly, especially your hands.
- Don't share dishes, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with anyone else.
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces like doorknobs, counters, and tabletops.
What to expect
Symptoms begin 2 to 14 days after you come into contact with the virus. Early studies show that many people who have mild infections recover within 2 weeks. More severe cases tend to last 3 to 6 weeks.
Talk to your doctor about how long you should isolate yourself if you have symptoms. CDC guidelines say you can leave isolation when all of these are true:
- You haven’t had a fever for 3 days.
- Your respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or shortness of breath, are better.
- It’s been at least 10 days since your symptoms began OR you have two negative COVID-19 tests 24 hours apart.
How do you know if your symptoms are getting worse?
Get medical care right away if you begin to have:
Coronavirus Treatment in a Hospital
You don't need to go to the hospital or ER if you have basic COVID-19 symptoms, like a mild fever or cough. If you do, many hospitals will send you home.
If your case is severe, members of the medical staff will check for signs that the illness is causing more serious problems. They might:
- Check the levels of oxygen in your blood with a clip-on finger monitor
- Listen to your lungs
- Give you a COVID-19 test. This involves putting a 6-inch cotton swab up both sides of your nose for about 15 seconds.
- Give you a chest X-ray or CT scan
You may also get fluids through a tube, or IV, in your arm to keep you from getting dehydrated. Doctors will also closely monitor your breathing. The goal is for your infection to run its course and for your lungs to heal enough that they can breathe on their own again.
Your doctor might give you medication to thin your blood and prevent clots.
If you take drugs such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), or statins for other health problems, your doctor will tell you to continue them as usual.
Many clinical trials are underway to explore treatments used for other conditions that could fight COVID-19 and to develop new ones.
People who are in the hospital with severe COVID-19 may get an antiviral medicine called remdesivir. Research shows that some patients recover faster after taking it. Remdesivir was created to fight Ebola, but the FDA has issued an emergency use ruling so doctors can use it against COVID-19.
The FDA is also allowing clinical trials and hospital use of blood plasma from people who've recovered from COVID-19 in order to help patients with severe or life-threatening cases. You'll hear this called convalescent plasma.
Clinical trials are under way for other medications, including tocilizumab, which has been used to treat autoimmune conditions and an inflammatory condition called cytokine release syndrome.
The FDA had issued an emergency ruling so doctors could use hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. But the agency revoked the ruling amid serious concerns about their safety. The World Health Organization stopped trials of hydroxychloroquine, and France banned its use against COVID-19. The medications are approved to treat malaria and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
One study found that dexamethasone, a common steroid medication, can help people who are hospitalized with severe COVID-19 complications. But the findings are preliminary, and the researchers haven’t released the full study.