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

8 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, chair of the Department of Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital and associate professor of clinical medicine 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 majority of patients will have a fever, and temperatures can reach 102 to 104 degrees. Many people will also have the classic symptoms of cough, sore throat, congestion, 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 as the only signs.

“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 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

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

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, but you can take steps to support your recovery. 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. 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.

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.


“We have learned that this virus can be very debilitating and recovery harder than expected. This is the time to be very gentle with yourself.”

— 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 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 air flow. 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, 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 sick room and home. The CDC says you can be with others after you’ve been fever-free for three full days without using a fever-reducing medicine, your other symptoms have improved, and at least 10 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.

“We have learned that this virus can be very debilitating and recovery harder than expected,” Dr. Tung says. “This is the time to be very gentle with yourself.”

Judy Tung, M.D., is a primary care physician and chair of the Department of Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. She is also associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Additional Resources

  • Learn about the COVID-19 Recovery Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medicine and the COVID-19 Rehabilitation Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Both help patients who were hospitalized return to their daily routines, especially if they are having persistent difficulties with shortness of breath, muscle weakness or fatigue.

  • 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.