Recovery Road: The Best Ways to Treat COVID-19 at Home

Aaron S. Weinberg MD, MPhil
February 21, 2022
8 mins

Because COVID-19 always comes with a risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death, we must continue doing our best to avoid contracting and transmitting the disease. This means making sure that you’re fully vaccinated (this now means also receiving a booster shot as advised) and that you’re following all recommended safety guidelines (such as social distancing and wearing a mask). 

By now, we’re all well-versed in COVID-19’s symptoms, but many might now understand what a path to recovery looks like after those symptoms start. 

Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot over the past two years. We have a better understanding of COVID-19 variants and how best to treat the disease. If you test positive for COVID-19, are vaccinated and boosted, and are otherwise healthy, you’ll most likely be sent home to isolate and recover: 95 percent of people do not require hospitalization if they develop COVID-19. While you’re resting in isolation, you should monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if you develop complications. (We’ll discuss this in greater depth later in this post.)

Today, we’ll discuss the best ways to recover from COVID-19 at home, as well as signs that indicate that you need to seek further treatment.   

What Should I Do After Testing Positive for COVID-19?

If you are unvaccinated or you are in a high-risk category due to an underlying medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider. Especially if you are starting to feel ill, seek medical advice right away. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you visit a hospital, or they may recommend monoclonal antibody treatment or antiviral medication to help prevent severe illness. The earlier these therapies are started, the more effective they are. 

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If you have been vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19, your provider may recommend certain therapies if you have any underlying condition that puts you at higher risk for severe symptoms. Otherwise, you will likely be advised to stay home and isolate from other people in your household to the extent that you are able. According to the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “People with COVID-19 should isolate for five days; then, if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), they should follow that by five days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.” (Read complete CDC recommendations.) Some health providers and employers recommend antigen testing as part of the clearance process, as some people may test positive for more than five days and can still be contagious. 

What Are the Best Ways to Recover from COVID-19?

When most people are recovering from COVID-19, they use at-home remedies to mitigate symptoms and help themselves feel more comfortable. For the most part, people who develop COVID-19 feel better within a few days.

Here are some remedies, recovery tips, and medication information that will help you learn how to treat COVID-19 at home.

1. Rest

One of the best things you can do for your body when you’re sick is rest. This will give your body the energy it needs to fight off the infection and strengthen your immune system.

2. Stay hydrated

It’s important to stay hydrated when you’re sick, especially with COVID-19. For most people, this means drinking even more water than they would on a typical day. Many of the most common COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, diarrhea, and vomiting, can quickly deplete your body’s reserves of water, so it’s vitally important to replenish them as fast as you can.

Tired of drinking plain water? It’s ok to expand your horizons, but try and keep it healthy. Squeeze a bit of lemon or lime into your water to boost its flavor, or opt for low-sugar sports drinks, herbal teas, or watered-down all-natural juice. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can further dehydrate you. 

3. Choose easy-to-digest foods

Even if you don’t have an appetite, it’s important to nourish your body. Eating healthy food gives your body the energy and fuel it needs to fight off  infection. Reach for nutrient-rich foods like leafy greens and lean proteins that are easy to prepare and digest. Eggs, salad, bananas, and crackers are all great options if you don’t feel like cooking.  

4. Drink lots of warm liquids

If you’re coughing a lot, your throat can quickly become irritated. To help soothe a sore or scratchy throat, drink lots of warm or hot liquids. Mixing in a teaspoon of honey can also help relieve a sore throat.

5. Gargle with saltwater

Another proven remedy that can help treat a sore throat is a saltwater gargle, and if you use warm or hot water, it will also feel very soothing.

6. Stock up on recommended over-the-counter medications

Some over-the-counter medications are effective at treating certain symptoms of COVID-19. These include pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if you have a fever, body aches, or headaches. Over-the-counter decongestants, nasal sprays, and cough suppressants can also be used to relieve symptoms. (Keep in mind that even over-the-counter medications can cause issues if taken in excess, so talk to a healthcare provider if you feel that the recommended doses aren’t working. If you regularly take other medications, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor about how they might interact with over-the-counter medications you’re considering. 

7. Sit in some steam

Sitting in a steamy bathroom or hovering over a bowl of hot, steamy water can help loosen phlegm and other secretions. Afterward, you may need to blow your nose, but breathing will probably feel a bit easier after that. You may also find it beneficial to use a humidifier. 

8. Practice meditation if you feel anxious

Some people with COVID-19 experience shortness of breath, which can lead to feelings of anxiety. If you’re struggling, practice deep breathing to help regulate your body. You can also do a short guided meditation to help you feel more centered.

How Do I Know When to Seek Medical Attention for COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms, it’s a good idea to alert your primary care provider, so they can help you develop a care plan. It may be possible to conduct this appointment over video or phone. To learn more and find help, check out this Carbon Health COVID-19 resource page

However, some symptoms mean that you should seek immediate care. If you have any of the following symptoms, go to an emergency room right away.

     • Trouble breathing or low oxygen saturations (if you have a pulse oximeter)

     • Confusion

     • Pressure or pain in your chest

     • New leg swelling 

     • New neurologic symptoms such as weakness, numbness, trouble speaking, vision changes, trouble walking, dizziness, balance issues. 

     • Chronic sleepiness or the inability to stay awake

     • Blue-colored nails, skin, or lips

COVID-19 is associated with a whole host of both acute medical complications (such as blood clots, bacterial pneumonias, and organ dysfunction) and chronic medical complications (such as  pulmonary fibrosis, and long COVID), so if you or someone in your care is not improving or is developing new or worsening symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away. 

How Can I Avoid Spreading COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19, the best way to avoid spreading it is to stay home and isolate yourself from other people. If you live with others, this may mean isolating in one area of the house, using a separate bathroom, and diligently wiping down any high-touch common areas frequently.  

What Are Some Breathing Exercises I Can Do for Recovery from COVID-19?

Since COVID-19 affects the lungs so acutely, you can help your recovery by practicing regular breathing exercises to encourage the respiratory system to regain its strength. These deep breathing exercises begin on the back, then you can transition to your stomach, and then finally sitting or standing as you feel strong enough.

How Soon Can I Start Being Active After Being Ill with COVID-19?

If you work out regularly, it may feel strange to abstain from exercise while you’re feeling sick. However, it’s a good idea to pause your usual exercise regime while you’re recovering from COVID-19. Once you have the energy and are no longer symptomatic, you can slowly resume your regular routine. Start with gentle exercise like walking or jogging, then move gradually towards more strenuous activities.

Getting diagnosed with COVID-19 can be frightening, but once you learn how you can treat COVID-19 and what symptoms you can expect, it’s easy to manage most cases. However, it’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare provider so they can help monitor your recovery. If you don’t have a doctor you can contact, it’s easy to find one using the Carbon Health app or website.  

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.

Aaron S. Weinberg MD, MPhil

Aaron S. Weinberg, MD, MPhil, is Director of Program Development at Carbon Health and triple board-certified in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Internal Medicine.