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Recovering from coronavirus symptoms at home

Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics
29 April 2020

Anyone can get coronavirus (COVID-19), but how it affects people can range from having no symptoms at all to severe difficulties in breathing, requiring treatment in hospital.

If you’re hospitalised with coronavirus, you will likely get specific guidance from doctors and nurses about how to recover when you get home. However, most people will experience milder symptoms, and these can be safely managed at home. Here are some tips on self-care during your illness, and when to seek advice from a healthcare professional.


Those most at risk

Some people are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill and admitted to hospital due to coronavirus. This includes people who:


Currently, about one in 100 people under the age of 30 need hospital treatment for coronavirus, compared to 20 in 100 people aged over 80.

Is it coronavirus?

At the time of writing, coronavirus testing in the UK is only being carried out on people who:

  • are admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms
  • are essential workers
  • live with essential workers and have symptoms

So, if you’re unwell at home, you won’t know for sure that you’ve got coronavirus. The symptoms can vary a lot, the commonest being:

  • a high temperature (over 37.8°C)
  • a dry, irritating and continuous cough
  • extreme tiredness

A continuous cough means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.

These seem to be the key symptoms and if you have these, you (and anyone you live with) must self-isolate straight away. Other common symptoms include:

  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • muscle and joint aches and pains

With all the news coverage and social distancing, it’s natural that your anxiety levels may increase at this time, particularly if you feel unwell. You can use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service to check your symptoms and get advice on what you should do. If your symptoms are mild, you should expect to feel better within a week or so.

When to seek help

Contact NHS 111 or your GP for advice if:

  • at any point your breathing gets more difficult when you’re going upstairs or just walking around at home
  • your symptoms haven’t got any better after seven days

You should also seek medical advice if you have any unusual symptoms, such as:

  • severe abdominal (tummy) pain
  • blood in your poo or pee
  • pain in your back or side

These may be signs that something else is going on, such as a bladder or kidney infection, or a bowel problem. Similarly, if you develop chest pains, dizziness or neurological symptoms (such as confusion, seizures or loss of sensation), with or without a fever or cough, then there may be another underlying problem going on.

You need to call 999 for an ambulance if, at any point:

  • you become too breathless to be able to speak more than a few words
  • your breathing gets noticeably harder and faster even if you’re not doing anything
  • you develop constant pain or pressure on your chest
  • if you or someone else notices a bluish tinge to your lips
  • if you or (more likely) someone else notices any confusion

Recovering from coronavirus at home

Keep hydrated

As with colds and flu, it’s important to drink plenty of water or diluted squash to keep yourself well hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, as these can make you even more dehydrated. If you have a high temperature, you’ll be losing more fluids than normal. As a general guide, your urine should be pale and straw coloured. If it’s darker than that, you’re not drinking enough.

Take paracetamol

Take paracetamol to help with your fever and aches and pain. Ibuprofen is currently not advisable, as there are concerns regarding its safety with coronavirus. However, there’s not enough scientific evidence to say for sure. So, if you’re already taking ibuprofen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for another condition, such as a rheumatic disease, you may continue to do so. Or if you’re unsure, discuss it further with your doctor.

Rest regularly

You may want to keep working, home-schooling or carry on doing things around the house. But remember, you’re unwell and your body needs to rest and recover. Your immune system uses up a lot of energy when fighting an infection. That’s why you feel so tired.

Eat well

Try to eat healthily. This may be difficult if you have lost your appetite or are experiencing nausea. Little and often is best and avoid highly processed or sugary foods.

Pass the time

Boredom and loneliness are something that many of us are dealing with in lockdown. Watching box sets is a good way to pass the time, but too much screen time can cause strain for your eyes and give you a headache. Mix it up by reading a book or listening to music or an audio book instead. If you’re lonely, ring or video call a friend or relative for a chat. Hearing a friendly voice will perk you up.

Recovering from coronavirus in the longer term

Whether you’ve been at home throughout or have come home from hospital, it’s understandable to want to get back to normal as quickly as possible. But be guided by your body. This virus seems to cause particularly severe fatigue, which can last a good two or three weeks.

If you’ve come out of hospital, remember to pay particular attention to any specific advice given by your doctors.

In general, if you want to start exercising again, it’s best to wait seven to 10 days after recovery and start gently. Yoga, Pilates, simple stretches and walks (once you’ve finished your isolation period) are some good ways to start. If your chest starts to feel tight, stop and speak with your doctor. You can try again in a few days’ time.

Test your knowledge

Do you know how to protect yourself and others and slow the spread of coronavirus? Check your knowledge and find out about the UK government’s advice by answering these questions.

Dr Amilia Alifrangis
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics

    • COVID-19: One in five over-80s need hospitalisation and death rate 0.66 per cent. Imperial College London. www.imperial.ac.uk, published 31st March 2020
    • Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, updated 30 March 2020
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, published 24 April 2020
    • COVID-19: how to treat coronavirus at home. Patient Info. patient.info, last updated 16 April 2020
    • Symptoms and what to do – Coronavirus (COVID-19). NHS. www.nhs.uk, last reviewed 17 April 2020
    • What to do for possible coronavirus infection. Patient Access. www.patientaccess.com, accessed 19 April 2020
    • Commission on Human Medicines advice on ibuprofen and coronavirus (COVID-19). GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, published 14 April 2020
    • COVID-19/coronavirus – advice for the general public. The Association of UK Dietitians. www.bda.uk.com, updated 20 April 2020
    • Segerstrom SC. Stress, Energy, and Immunity: An Ecological View. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2007; 16(6):326-330. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00522.x

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