Sick With COVID-19? Here’s How to Treat Yourself at Home

9 tips to help you recover at home if you have a milder case of COVID-19.

A grid of images showing some of the things you may need to treat yourself at home for COVID-19.

The coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the United States, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, which now accounts for over 99% of cases.

But most people who develop COVID-19 symptoms have a mild illness and can recover at home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“While some patients require inpatient care for their COVID-19 infection, most do not and are able to safely care for themselves at home,” says Dr. Judy Tung, section chief of Adult Internal Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and associate dean for Faculty Development at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Understanding the symptoms and how to monitor and treat them can help you manage your care safely.”

The good news, Dr. Tung adds, is that COVID-19 vaccines have proved very effective in preventing severe COVID-19 illness. “I highly recommend that eligible individuals get vaccinated and stay up to date with their vaccination,” encourages Dr. Tung.

Here, Dr. Tung shares with Health Matters how to treat yourself at home if you have a milder case of COVID-19.

Know the Symptoms

The range of symptoms that patients experience from COVID-19 is quite wide. Classic symptoms include headache, sore throat, fever, congestion and runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, severe fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and an altered sense of taste and smell. “The severity of symptoms vary quite a bit and so can the duration, lasting days for some and weeks for others, which is very exhausting,” Dr. Tung says. “It’s important to stay vigilant about your health symptoms.”

Contact a Doctor

Let your doctor know as soon as COVID-19 symptoms start so they can advise and monitor you. This is especially important for people with a higher risk of complications, including older adults and people with conditions such as obesity, chronic lung disease, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. If you don’t have a primary care physician, establish a relationship with a doctor, especially one who has telemedicine capability. If you have a specialist for a condition such as cancer, let them know you have COVID-19 symptoms. Keep your doctor’s number on hand.

Dr. Judy Tung, expert on how to treat yourself at home for COVID-19 and colds

Dr. Judy Tung

Get Tested

Information is empowering and will allow you to accurately care for yourself and the people around you, so it’s important to get tested if you have any COVID-19 symptoms. Most rapid tests for home use and at testing centers are antigen tests and can produce results in about 15 minutes. Antigen tests detect proteins from the virus particles and are typically less sensitive than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, so a false negative is possible.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms but test negative on an antigen test, follow up with a PCR test and isolate at home while waiting for results. If you can’t get a PCR test, then repeat your rapid antigen test over the next day or two to increase your chance of detecting the virus. If you have symptoms and your rapid antigen test is positive, this is usually enough to confirm your infection and there is no need to test with a PCR.

“At-home tests are a powerful tool,” Dr. Tung says. “If you don’t have serious symptoms, don’t go to a hospital emergency department just for a COVID-19 test.”

Rest and Drink Fluids

Get plenty of rest and stay well hydrated. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea can lead to significant dehydration, which can make you feel worse. Keep a big bottle of water by your bed and drink from it frequently. Broth soups, tea with honey, and fruit juice are also good choices.

“You can tell that you are getting dehydrated if your mouth feels dry, you get lightheaded when you move from a seated or squatting position to a standing one, and your urine output declines,” Dr. Tung says. “You should be urinating at least every four to five hours. Severe dehydration is one reason we hospitalize patients with COVID-19, because the body becomes too weak to fight off the infection.”

Monitor Your Health Closely

Keep a detailed log of your symptoms, and contact your doctor if you are getting sicker. Take your temperature at least twice daily and pay attention to your breathing, particularly if you feel short of breath just resting or with minimal activity. If you have a pulse oximeter, a device that clips to your fingertip, use it to measure your blood oxygen level. If it falls below 95%, consult a doctor. If it falls below 90%, call 911 or get emergency care immediately. Severe COVID-19 can result in major respiratory problems, and people may require supplemental oxygen.

Thankfully, Dr. Tung adds, a lower proportion of patients with Omicron are experiencing the dangerously low oxygen levels and pneumonia that lead to hospitalization or a ventilator. If you are having trouble breathing, persistent pain or chest pressure, new confusion, an inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Treat Your Symptoms

High or persistent fevers are dangerous because they worsen dehydration, cloud your thinking, and increase the overall oxygen demands of your vital organs. Treating your fever is therefore important. Take an over-the-counter fever reducer such as acetaminophen (500 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams) every six to eight hours to keep your temperature under 100 degrees. A hot shower to breathe in steam can ease a sore throat and congestion; however, ensure that you are well hydrated and not running a high fever before you do this. Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications can help, especially if stools are watery and episodes exceed eight to 10 a day. An inhaler is sometimes needed to ease chest tightness or wheezing associated with COVID-19 infection. Always consult your physician to tailor your treatment plan.

Ask for Help

Your household members should grocery shop, fill your prescriptions, and help with your other needs. If you live alone, reach out to a friend or family member and let them know you are sick so they can check in with you and keep their phones on at night. Ask someone who lives nearby if they could bring groceries and necessities to leave at your door, or use a delivery service. And it’s a good time to stock up on nonperishable food, medications, and household supplies. Create an emergency contact list of friends, family, neighbors, and your doctor.

"Understanding the symptoms and how to monitor and treat them can help you manage your care safely."

— Dr. Judy Tung

Protect Others

It’s important to avoid spreading the virus. Stay home for at least five days, except for medical visits, and self-isolate in one room as much as possible, including eating in your room. Use a separate bathroom, if available. Avoid older or frail relatives with medical conditions. Wear a mask around others for 10 full days, which precludes eating together (and they should wear a mask around you). These measures also apply to people who tested positive for COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms.

If you have to share a room, stay at least six feet away from others; your household member should try to sleep six feet away from you and head to foot. Open the windows of shared spaces for good airflow. If sharing a bathroom, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces after you use them; if you are too weak or unable to clean, your caregiver should wear a mask and wait as long as possible after you have used the bathroom before coming in to clean and use the bathroom, according to the CDC. Follow the CDC’s recommendations for how to care for someone with COVID-19.

Do not share cups, plates, utensils, cellphones or other electronics, towels, or bedding, and clean often-touched surfaces such as telephones, doorknobs, and handles daily. Everyone should wash their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.

Return to Normal Gradually

Recovery time can range from a few days to more than two weeks for severe cases. Even when you’re feeling well, you can be contagious, so follow CDC guidelines before leaving your sickroom and home. The CDC says you can discontinue your home isolation five days after testing positive or experiencing symptoms, if your symptoms are improving. Loss of taste or smell may continue for weeks or months and need not delay the time when you can be around others. People who were severely ill with COVID-19 or are immunocompromised should stay home at least 10 days, so check with your doctor.

COVID-19 Treatments

For individuals not requiring hospitalization but at higher risk for disease progression, there are a few treatments now available, though they are in short supply.


  • Antiviral medication that consists of two types of tablets, nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, prescribed as a five-day oral course
  • Appears to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by 88%
  • Interacts with many other medications, so only certain individuals are eligible


  • Antiviral medication that is prescribed as a five-day oral course
  • Appears to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by about 30%

Monoclonal Antibodies

  • Lab-made proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system; administered by intravenous infusion
  • Three monoclonal antibody treatments are authorized, but only sotrovimab may be effective against Omicron
  • One study found sotrovimab reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by 85%.

Judy Tung, M.D., is section chief of Adult Internal Medicine in the Division of Internal Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and a primary care physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. She is also associate dean for Faculty Development at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Additional Resources

  • Learn about COVID-19 testing in our expert’s guide, including when to get tested and how accurate the tests are.

  • If you are not feeling well, consider using NewYork-Presbyterian’s Virtual Urgent Care for non-life-threatening symptoms, such as fever, cough, upset stomach, or nausea. Learn more at

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