The good news about more people being vaccinated (and boosted) is that far fewer people are developing serious or life-threatening symptoms if they catch COVID-19 — instead, they develop mild, cold- or flu-like symptoms and are able to treat the illness themselves at home. And as medical research has advanced, we’ve learned more about how to treat COVID-19 at home and what we can do to ease symptoms and feel better.
In this post, we’ll discuss a few popular over-the-counter treatments and home remedies for COVID-19 and how they can (or can’t) help alleviate symptoms for most adults. (Guidelines for children and for people who have significant underlying medical conditions may be very different — talk to your healthcare provider about any questions or concerns.)
Especially if they are fully vaccinated, most people diagnosed with COVID-19 (including variants such as Omicron) experience mild symptoms that can be taken care of at home.
Some of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
• Shortness of breath
Treating these symptoms will help you stay comfortable as you recover. Here are some suggestions:
A fever is a sign that your body’s immune system is working hard to fight infection. Many people immediately reach for fever-reducing medication, but the best thing to do if you’re an otherwise healthy adult is let the fever run its course. If your fever is 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees celsius) doctors suggest simply resting and drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
If your temperature rises above that and is causing you discomfort, take acetaminophen, NSAIDs, or aspirin to reduce your fever. (Read the label carefully and take the medicine only as directed.) If you have a high fever (higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days, contact your doctor. (NSAIDs must be used with caution in people with renal dysfunction, people using anticoagulants, and people with a history of gastrointestinal ulcers. Acetaminophen can be harmful for people with liver dysfunction. If you have questions about fever medications, talk to your healthcare provider.)
Like a fever, a cough may be annoying, but it is not usually life-threatening. For a cough, many over-the-counter options help to soothe your throat and keep you comfortable so that you can rest and sleep. Over-the-counter cough suppressants and/or decongestants can also help
Cough drops or candies help soothe throat dryness, while some people rely on honey for the same purpose. Honey can be eaten straight from the jar by the teaspoon or stirred into hot water or tea with lemon juice. You can also moisturize the air with a humidifier or take a long, steamy shower.
Prolonged or intense shortness of breath can be a sign of severe illness. If you are experiencing this symptom, seek medical attention right away. And even mild breathlessness or shortness of breath can be very unpleasant. Try to avoid panicking, as panic can make this feeling worse. Instead, practice taking slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. This often works best when you’re sitting upright rather than reclining.
You can also open a window or turn down the heat. Feeling hot can make it harder to breathe.
Most advice on how to get rid of COVID-19 at home focuses on alleviating symptoms. Unfortunately, there’s not much that you can do to get rid of the infection itself — it just has to run its course if you’re recovering at home. It’s important to make yourself feel comfortable. The more you can rest and relax, the easier it will be for your body to do the work it needs to do to recover.
You should also focus on eating plenty of healthy, easy-to-digest foods like soup, toast, or avocados. Most importantly, you should ensure you’re getting enough fluids, especially if you have a fever. Most health professionals recommend drinking 64 to 70 ounces of water per day. Avoid or limit liquids that increase dehydration, such as those containing alcohol or caffeine.
Much of the misinformation about COVID-19 stems from discussions about appropriate medications that can treat the virus. For most of the past two years, advice on what to take for COVID-19 has been limited to over-the-counter medications that can treat symptoms, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which are great for reducing fevers and soothing headaches and muscle pain.
However, medical research has advanced, and now there are two medications that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized to treat COVID-19. They are:
• Monoclonal antibody therapy (mAb) — however, most mAbs are now no longer effective due to Omicron mutations (some are still used).
• Antiviral pills known alternately as paxlovid or molnupravir
These treatments are best taken in the first days of symptom onset, and can prevent mild or moderate COVID-19 from becoming severe. (Note that they are primarily recommended for people who have underlying risk factors for developing severe COVID-19 infection, not the general population.)
A pulse oximeter is a medical device that measures oxygenation in the bloodstream. It’s typically used in a hospital setting or for people with chronic lung conditions, but since the advent of COVID-19, many people have purchased them for at-home use. Using a pulse oximeter regularly can help a person see whether their blood oxygen level is dropping, which could signify that they need to seek emergency medical treatment.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, the last thing you should be doing is running to the store to pick up supplies. As soon as you test positive, you should go home and isolate yourself from other people. This is a crucial way to stop the virus from spreading.
However, you will still need items to help you stay comfortable and keep you entertained as you recover. Here are some ideas for a shopping list that you can either buy in advance or send a friend or family member out to purchase for you.
• Over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
• Your favorite easy-to-digest foods
• Healthy snacks like apples, energy bars, nut butters, and crackers
• Electrolyte-replacement drinks like Gatorade
• Books to read
• Board games
• Any necessary personal care products like shampoo, soap, or toothpaste
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to either call your doctor or seek out emergency medical care at a local hospital.
• New difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in your chest or upper abdomen
• Confusion or disorientation
• Inability to stay awake
• Pale or blue skin tone, especially in the lips and nails
• New numbness, slurring of speech, weakness of one extremity, vision changes, or other neurologic changes
• Swelling of the legs
• Fainting or dizziness
• Sudden or severe pain
• Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
• Coughing or vomiting blood
• New fever or new/worsening cough after a period of recovery
The length of the average at-home isolation period for COVID-19 varies depending on whether you are asymptomatic (displaying no symptoms), or have mild or moderate symptoms.
If you are asymptomatic and test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate for five days following your diagnosis. If you reach day six and are still asymptomatic, you can resume going out in public but should wear a well-fitting mask to limit viral spread.
If you have mild symptoms, you should isolate for at least five days. On the sixth day (from start of symptoms), you can leave isolation if you no longer have a fever and your symptoms are improving. As with asymptomatic patients, make sure you’re wearing a mask around others at all times. (Some patients and clinicians opt for repeat antigen testing to help guide clearance decisions.)\
People who were moderately ill with COVID-19 (experiencing symptoms that affect the lungs like shortness of breath or difficulty breathing) should isolate for 10 days and follow all other isolation precautions. People who developed severe symptoms (requiring hospitalization) and people who have weakened immune systems might need to isolate at home longer. Talk you your healthcare provider for recommendations.
Even if you’re feeling better, resist the urge to leave the house before the first five days of quarantine are up. Stocking up on board games, books, and movies to help keep yourself entertained can help you feel less isolated.
If you’re taking care of someone infected with COVID-19, it’s essential to take measures to prevent yourself from picking up the virus from them. Here are some tips for ways to protect yourself.
1. Clean your hands often with soap and warm water, washing for at least 20 seconds..
2. Wear a well-fitting face mask (ideally an N85 or KN95 mask) whenever possible.
3. Wash the sick person’s laundry on the warmest setting possible, and dry it thoroughly.
4. Use gloves when dealing with used tissues, dishes, or any other items that may have the sick person’s bodily fluids on them.
5. Clean your home frequently, especially shared or high-touch areas.
6. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands.
7. Don’t reuse your mask and gloves.
If you have questions or concerns about COVID-19, download the Carbon Health app or visit carbonhealth.com to make a virtual or in-person appointment with a healthcare provider.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider.