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How to Manage a Mild Case of COVID-19 at Home

An adult white woman sick in bed with a glass of juice, tissues, hand sanitizer, her tablet and other comforts. She is pressing a cool wash cloth to her forehead.

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Key Takeaways

  • You can manage a mild case of COVID-19 at home with rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medication.
  • To avoid spreading the virus to other members of your household, isolate yourself in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if you can. 
  • Monitor your symptoms and keep track of whether your condition is getting better or worse each day.

It's never fun to be sick, but having COVID-19 can be downright distressing. The fear of the unknown combined with isolation—given the strict directives, even when it comes to members in your household—makes for an overwhelming experience.

Fortunately, most cases of COVID are mild. If you’re weathering the illness at home, here are some strategies you can use to keep others safe and ease your symptoms.

How to Isolate at Home

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people with a mild case of COVID-19 isolate for 10 days after their symptoms start. That means staying home except to get medical care.

According to the CDC, you can end isolation after 10 days if you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without help from fever-reducing medications and your condition has improved. If you've had severe symptoms or are immunocompromised, you might have to isolate longer.

What to Do If You Live with Other People

It's much easier to keep yourself distanced from others if you live alone, but that might not be the case.

If you have to be in the same room as someone else in your home, you can reduce the risk of spreading the virus to them by both wearing face masks, staying socially distanced, and opening a window.

If there are other people in your household, you'll need to take some steps to avoid transmitting the virus to them while you work on getting better.

  • Isolate yourself in your own room and use your own bathroom, if possible.
  • Have other members of your household leave food, drinks, and other needs at your door rather than going to the kitchen or shared living spaces.
  • Consider using disposable dishes, bowls, and flatware.
  • Communicate via text or phone. If you’re up for it, you could video chat with FaceTime or Google Hangouts.
  • Regularly disinfect surfaces, handles, knobs, and anything else that could potentially be touched in a shared room, such as a bathroom or kitchen (though, again, avoiding communal areas is ideal).
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water, and have everyone else in your home do so, too.

What If You Live With Others In a Small Space?

If you live in a small apartment with others, these steps can prove difficult if not impossible. Several U.S. cities, including New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and San Francisco, are offering free hotel stays and meals to people with COVID who do not need hospital care and cannot isolate themselves properly at home.

Tips for Caring for Yourself

The symptoms and severity of COVID illness can vary widely. Some people have a cough and a headache while others get severely ill and require hospital care. Sometimes, people do not have any symptoms at all.

If you do get sick and have symptoms, they will likely be mild. You might feel similar to how you'd feel if you had a case of the flu. Common COVID-19 symptoms include:

You might have just a few of these symptoms or a combination of them. While you will likely feel unwell, you probably will not feel sick enough to go to the hospital.

Some people with COVID-19 develop trouble breathing. If you start feeling short of breath or like you can't breathe, seek medical care right away.

Managing Your Symptoms at Home

If you have a mild case of COVID-19, you can use many of the same remedies to feel better that you'd use if you had a cold or the flu.

Elevate Your Head and Upper Body

When you’re flat on your back, your abdomen pushes up on your diaphragm, which can make it harder to breathe. If you're congested, you'll feel the effect even more.

M. Nadir Bhuiyan, MD, an internist at the Mayo Clinic and co-director of the COVID-19 Frontline Care Team (CFCT) for Mayo Clinic Rochester’s Pandemic Telehealth Response Team, tells Verywell that resting on a slight incline instead may help.

If you have an adjustable frame or recliner, raise the upper portion to elevate your head and upper body. A foam wedge support can also prop you up.

Change Positions

COVID-19 can cause trouble breathing, which can be serious. If you are having a hard time breathing at any point in your illness, seek medical help right away. If you just have some mild discomfort—you feel like you aren't taking as deep a breath as you normally do—there are some things you can do for relief.

Gregory M. Schrank, MD, assistant professor of medicine and infectious disease expert at the University of Maryland Medical System, tells Verywell that switching between lying on your stomach and on your side can help with oxygen delivery and comfort.

Do Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises have many benefits, even when you're not sick. They can help you take in more oxygen, give your lungs a workout, and can even calm you down.

One technique to try is pursed lips breathing. Schrank says that this exercise “helps to keep your airway open for a longer period of time."

  • Inhale deeply through your nose with your mouth closed.
  • Then, pucker your lips (like you’re about to blow out a candle) and breathe out slowly.

Another technique is belly (or diaphragmatic) breathing:

  • Place one hand just below your rib cage and the other on your upper chest. Breathe as you would for pursed lips breathing, but focus on the movement of your diaphragm.
  • You should feel your belly push against your lower hand as you breathe in, and fall inward as you breathe out. Keep the hand on your upper chest relatively still. 

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of hydrating fluids is always important, but even more so when you're sick. Symptoms like fever, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea cause your body to lose water.

Bhuiyan says that while it's OK to hydrate with plain water, your body will absorb the fluid better with some salt or sugar. Warm meat or vegetable broth with a little salt or beverages that have added electrolytes and sugar, like Gatorade or Pedialyte, can help.

Nourish Your Body

When you're sick, you might not feel hungry. If you have gastrointestinal symptoms, food might be the last thing on your mind. To feel better, though, your body needs proper nourishment.

“One of the things we worried about with COVID is feeling light-headed and passing out,” Bhuiyan says. “That’s why we encourage people to eat something small, even if they’re not hungry. Clear soups are good because, besides the liquids, you have the fats, proteins, and salts.”

Take OTC Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like Tylenol are often enough to treat a mild headache, and also help reduce a fever. Your provider might say that other OTC options, including NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen (like Advil), are OK to use if you are not at risk for gastrointestinal bleeding and you do not have kidney problems.

If you have a cough, OTC remedies can help your symptoms. However, Bhuiyan warns that some of these products, such as Benadryl, contain antihistamines and can make you drowsy. Time your dose for about half an hour before bedtime.

Rest

Bhuiyan says that people who have COVID-19 are often surprised by the fatigue and lack of energy they experience. Rest is one of the best things you can do for your body.

If you are having a hard time falling asleep, Bhuiyan suggests asking your provider if a melatonin supplement might help.

While melatonin is generally safe for short-term use, the supplements can cause side effects and interact with certain medications. Make sure to talk to your doctor before taking them.

Move Around

While you need your rest, you also don't want to be completely immobile while you recover. "Lying in bed all day is not a means for a quick recovery,” Schrank says. “When you lie in bed for an extended period of time, you don’t let the lungs expand and work to their fullest capacity, and this can perpetuate a feeling of fatigue.”

In addition to your breathing exercises, make it a goal to walk around a little each day. If you live alone, you can move around your house. but even just staying active by walking around in your room can help.

What This Means for You

If you have a mild case of COVID-19, stay away from other people—including the people you live with. Rest, hydration, and breathing exercises can help. Keep track of how you're feeling and if your symptoms are not getting better, or are getting worse, call your doctor or seek emergency care.

How to Monitor Your Symptoms 

Monitoring your symptoms can help you gauge whether you’re on the mend or in need of medical care. Your provider and local health department will likely provide specific instructions, but consider keeping track of the following:

Take Your Temperature

Seeing whether you have a fever (and if it's getting better) will be part of your routine if you have COVID. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind.

  • If you’ve just taken a pain reliever, wait at least six hours before taking your temperature to get the most accurate reading.
  • If you’re using an oral thermometer and you’ve been eating or drinking—particularly anything hot or cold—wait half an hour before taking your temperature.

Check Your Oxygen Level

A pulse oximeter can tell you a little about how well your lungs are working. Not everyone with COVID needs to use one, but your provider might suggest it.

The small device clips onto the end of your finger. You press a button and it takes a measurement. Keep in mind that moving too much or wearing nail polish can affect the reading. There is also evidence that the devices sometimes do not work well on darker skin tones.

“Most healthy individuals with no lung or heart disease will have numbers well above 92%,” Bhuiyan says. If your reading drops below that level, it's time to call your doctor.

If at any point your pulse oximeter reading is under 90%, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

If you don't have an oximeter or you're just too tired to keep track, Schrank suggests asking yourself certain questions throughout the day to assess how you're doing:

  • Do I feel like today is worse than the day before, or is it better?
  • Am I feeling better this afternoon compared to how I felt in the morning?
  • Do I feel short of breath today compared to yesterday?

When to Seek Medical Care

Mild cases of COVID-19 typically resolve in a week or two. If you're not feeling better, it's time to seek medical care. Many healthcare providers are now offering virtual appointments, which means that you may not have to go into the office unless they want to examine you.

In some cases, not feeling better or feeling much worse warrants a trip to the hospital. Here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • A persistent fever. Schrank says that while a high fever "isn’t necessarily concerning in and of itself,” if it lingers for days and doesn't go down when you take OTC medication like Tylenol, you need to call your doctor.
  • Chest pain. Having chest pain can be a sign of many problems, like blood clots or pneumonia. If you have new chest pain that isn't severe, you should call your provider. If you have severe chest pain, call 911 or go to the emergency room.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If you feel as if it’s unusually challenging to get enough air or you’re breathing hard even with only a little exertion, go to the ER.
  • Nausea and vomiting. If these symptoms are severe enough that you are having trouble getting nourishment and staying hydrated, you need to let your provider know. They might want you to go to the ER.
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds. This serious sign warrants a trip to the ER, as it can mean that your body is not getting enough oxygen. However, you should know that it's not always apparent, depending on your skin tone.
  • Suddenly having a hard time walking or feeling confused. Schrank says that these can be symptoms of low oxygen levels or a secondary bacterial infection. Go to the ER right away.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Interim guidance on duration of isolation and precautions for adults with Covid-19. Updated February 13, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When you can be around others after you had or likely had Covid-19. Updated March 12, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of coronavirus. Updated February 22, 2021.