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

10 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 has infected millions of people worldwide, but most who develop 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.”

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

Know the Symptoms

The range of symptoms that patients experience from COVID-19 is quite wide, and we now understand that the majority of people will have mild to moderate symptoms that can be managed at home. Classic symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, severe fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and an altered sense of taste and smell. For older patients or people with conditions that compromise their immune systems, symptoms can be more atypical, sometimes with fatigue and weakness the only signs, Dr. Tung says.

“The severity of symptoms can vary quite a bit and so can the duration, lasting days for some and weeks for others, which is very exhausting,” Dr. Tung says. “Additionally, some patients get initially better but then worsen precipitously in the second week, so stay vigilant, especially with regard to the respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pain.”

Contact a Doctor

Let your doctor know as soon as COVID-19 symptoms start so they can advise, test, 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. JudyTung, expert on how to treat yourself at home for COVID-19.

Dr. Judy Tung

Get Tested

Information is empowering and will allow you to accurately care for yourself and the people around you. There are several different tests to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. To find out if you currently have COVID-19, you’ll want the viral test, of which there are two types. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) detects the genetic material from the virus and is highly sensitive, which means it is able to pick up even low levels of the virus’s genetic material, known as RNA. The second type, the antigen test, detects proteins from the virus particle and is typically less sensitive, so a false negative is possible, but it usually produces results in less than an hour. The optimal time to get tested is when you develop symptoms or around the fourth or fifth day after exposure. Antibody or serology testing, accomplished via a blood draw, helps you to understand whether you have had COVID-19 in the past. It is not a recommended test for the diagnosis of COVID-19 in someone with symptoms or recent exposure.

Rest and Drink Fluids

Get plenty of rest and stay well hydrated. Fever 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 if 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. COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory condition, and people who become severely ill need oxygen or a ventilator. 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. Additionally, 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 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 are up to 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.

There are many treatments under investigation for COVID-19 and most, including remdesivir and corticosteroids, have proven to be helpful only in hospitalized patients. For certain outpatients, monoclonal antibodies, such as bamlanivimab or casirivimab and imdevimab, are available under FDA emergency use authorization, but these treatments are not considered standard of care; your doctor will let you know if you might benefit from them.

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. You could also 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 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 if you are around others (and they should wear a mask around you), and stay 6 feet apart.

If you have to share a room, your household member should try to sleep 6 feet away from you and head to foot. Open the windows of shared spaces and use a fan 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 safely do dishes and laundry, and care for someone with COVID-19.

Do not share cups, plates, utensils, electronics like a cell phone, 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 check with your doctor before leaving your sickroom and home. The CDC says you can discontinue your isolation after you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without using a fever-reducing medicine, your other symptoms have improved, and 10 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared. The 10-day recommendation is based on research that shows that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 are not contagious 10 days following symptom onset. 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 may have to stay home longer than 10 days, so check with your doctor.

Get Vaccinated

The good news is that COVID vaccines are now available and have thus far proved very effective in preventing COVID-19 illness. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines boast about 95% efficacy, even among individuals previously infected with COVID-19. Common reactions include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, and body aches. Severe allergic reactions appear to be very rare and occur shortly after vaccination, which means we are able to rapidly detect and treat these reactions.

“I highly recommend that eligible individuals get vaccinated as soon as they can,” encourages Dr. Tung.

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 nyp.org/urgentcare.

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