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Mild to moderate COVID-19 - discharge

You have recently been diagnosed with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). COVID-19 causes an infection in your lungs and may cause problems with other organs, including the kidneys, heart, and liver. Most often it causes a respiratory illness that causes fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. You may have mild to moderate symptoms or severe illness.

This article is about how to recover from mild-to-moderate COVID-19 that does not require hospital treatment. People with severe illness will usually be treated in the hospital.

Recovery from COVID-19 may take 10 to 14 days or longer depending on your symptoms. Some people have symptoms that go on for months even after they are no longer infected or able to spread the disease to other people.

What to Expect at Home

You tested positive for COVID-19 and are well enough to recover at home. As you recover, you must isolate at home. Home isolation keeps people who are infected with COVID-19 away from other people who are not infected with the virus. You should stay in home isolation until it is safe to be around others.

HELP PROTECT OTHERS

While in home isolation, you should separate yourself and stay away from other people to help prevent spreading COVID-19.

  • As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from others in your home. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Do not leave your home except to get medical care.
  • Have food brought to you. Try not to leave the room except to use the bathroom.
  • Use a face mask when you see your health care provider and anytime other people are in the same room with you.
  • Wash your hands many times a day with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not easily available, you should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Do not share personal items such as cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding. Wash anything you have used in soap and water.

WHEN TO END HOME ISOLATION

Talk with your health care provider about when it is safe to end home isolation. When it is safe depends upon your specific situation. These are the general recommendations from the CDC for when to be around other people. The CDC guidelines are updated frequently: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/end-home-isolation.html.

If you are tested for COVID-19 after your diagnosis or after having symptoms of the illness, it is safe to be around others if ALL of the following are true:

  • It has been at least 10 days since your symptoms first appeared.
  • You have gone at least 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
  • Your symptoms are improving, including cough, fever, and shortness of breath. (You may end home isolation even if you continue to have symptoms such as loss of taste and smell, which may linger for weeks or months.)

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

It's important to get proper nutrition, stay active as much as you can, and take steps to relieve stress and anxiety as you recover at home.

Managing COVID-19 symptoms

While recovering at home, it's important to keep track of your symptoms and stay in touch with your doctor. You may receive instructions on how to check and report your symptoms. Follow your provider's instructions and take medicines as prescribed. If you have severe symptoms, call 911 or the local emergency number.

To help manage symptoms of COVID-19, try the following tips.

  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help reduce fever. Sometimes, health care providers advise you to use both types of medicine. Take the recommended amount to reduce fever. DO NOT use ibuprofen in children 6 months or younger.
  • Aspirin works well to treat fever in adults. DO NOT give aspirin to a child (under age 18 years) unless your child's provider tells you to.
  • A lukewarm bath or sponge bath may help cool a fever. Keep taking medicine -- otherwise your temperature might go back up.
  • For a sore throat, gargle several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp or 3 grams of salt in 1 cup or 240 milliliters of water). Drink warm liquids such as tea, or lemon tea with honey. Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges.
  • Use a vaporizer or take a steamy shower to increase moisture in the air, reduce nasal congestion, and help soothe a dry throat and cough.
  • Saline spray can also help reduce nasal congestion.
  • To help relieve diarrhea, drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear liquids, such as water, diluted fruit juices, and clear soups to make up for fluid loss. Avoid dairy products, fried foods, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.
  • If you have nausea, eat small meals with bland foods. Avoid foods with strong smells. Try to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water or clear fluids every day to stay hydrated.
  • Do not smoke, and stay away from secondhand smoke.

Nutrition

COVID-19 symptoms such as loss of taste and smell, nausea, or tiredness can make it hard to want to eat. But eating a healthy diet is important for your recovery. These suggestions may help:

  • Try to eat healthy foods you enjoy most of the time. Eat anytime you feel like eating, not just at mealtime.
  • Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein foods. Include a protein food with every meal (tofu, beans, legumes, cheese, fish, poultry, or lean meat)
  • Try adding herbs, spices, onion, garlic, ginger, hot sauce or spice, mustard, vinegar, pickles, and other strong flavors to help increase enjoyment.
  • Try foods with different textures (soft or crunchy) and temperatures (cool or warm) to see what is more appealing.
  • Eat smaller meals more often throughout the day.
  • Don't fill up on liquids before or during your meals.

Physical Activity

Even though you don't have a lot of energy, it's important to move your body every day. This will help you regain your strength.

  • Deep breathing exercises may increase the amount of oxygen in your lungs and help open up airways. Ask your provider to show you.
  • Simple stretching exercises keep your body from getting stiff. Try to sit upright as much as you can during the day.
  • Try walking around your home for short periods every day. Try to do 5 minutes, 5 times a day. Slowly build up every week.

Mental Health

It is common for people who have had COVID-19 to experience a range of emotions, including anxiety, depression, sadness, isolation, and anger. Some people experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) as a result.

Many of the things you do to help with your recovery, such as a healthy diet, regular activity, and enough sleep, will also help you keep a more positive outlook.

You can help reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as:

Avoid mental isolation by reaching out to people you trust by phone calls, social media, or video calls. Talk about your experience and how you are feeling.

Call your health care provider right away if feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression:

  • Affect your ability to help yourself recover
  • Make it hard to sleep
  • Feel overwhelming
  • Make you feel like hurting yourself

When to Call the Doctor

You should call your health care provider if your symptoms are getting worse.

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion or inability to wake up
  • Blue lips or face
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness or numbness in a limb or one side of the face
  • Swelling of the legs or arms
  • Any other symptoms that are severe or concern you

Alternate Names

Coronavirus - 2019 discharge; SARS-CoV-2 discharge; COVID-19 recovery; Coronavirus disease - recovery; Recovering from COVID-19

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References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Interim guidance for implementing home care of people not requiring hospitalization for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-home-care.html. Updated October 16, 2020. Accessed February 7, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Isolate if you are sick. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/isolation.html. Updated January 7, 2021. Accessed February 7, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: What to do if you are sick. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html. Updated December 31, 2020. Accessed February 7, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: When you can be around others after you had or likely had COVID-19. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/end-home-isolation.html. Updated February 11, 2021. Accessed February 11, 2021.

Review Date 2/7/2021

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.