The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever, coughing, and breathing problems. Unless you have severe symptoms, you can most likely treat them at home, the way you would for a cold or the flu. Most people recover from COVID-19 without the need for hospital care. Call your doctor to ask about whether you should stay home or get medical care in person.
Scientists are trying to make new medicines and test some existing drugs to see whether they can treat COVID-19. In the meantime, there are a number of things that can relieve symptoms, both at home and at the hospital.
At-Home Coronavirus Treatment
If your symptoms are mild enough that you can recover at home, you should:
- Rest. It can make you feel better and may speed your recovery.
- Stay home. Don't go to work, school, or public places.
- Drink fluids. You lose more water when you're sick. Dehydration can make symptoms worse and cause other health problems.
- Monitor. If your symptoms get worse, call your doctor right away. Don't go to their office without calling first. They might tell you to stay home, or they may need to take extra steps to protect staff and other patients.
- Ask your doctor about over-the-counter medicines that may help, like acetaminophen to lower your fever.
The most important thing to do is to avoid infecting other people, especially those who are over 65 or who have other health problems.
- Try to stay in one place in your home. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if you can.
- Tell others you're sick so they keep their distance.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow.
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth if you can. The CDC recommends you use a well-fitting respirator mask (like N95s and KN95s). These provide better protection than other masks.
- Wash regularly, especially your hands.
- Don't share dishes, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with anyone else.
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces like doorknobs, counters, and tabletops.
What to expect
Symptoms begin 2 to 14 days after you come into contact with the virus. Many people who have mild infections recover within 2 weeks. More severe cases tend to last 3 to 6 weeks.
Talk to your doctor about how long you should isolate yourself if you have symptoms. CDC guidelines say you can leave isolation when all of these are true:
- You haven’t had a fever for 24 hours.
- Your respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or shortness of breath, are better.
- It’s been at least 5 days since your symptoms began.
How do you know if your symptoms are getting worse?
Get medical care right away if you begin to have:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain or pressure in your chest
- Confusion or severe drowsiness
- A blue tint to your lips or face
Coronavirus Treatment in a Hospital
You don't need to go to the hospital or ER if you have basic COVID-19 symptoms, like a mild fever or cough. If you do, many hospitals will send you home.
If your case is severe, members of the medical staff will check for signs that the illness is causing more serious problems. They might:
- Check the levels of oxygen in your blood with a clip-on finger monitor
- Listen to your lungs
- Give you a COVID-19 test. This involves putting a 6-inch cotton swab up both sides of your nose for about 15 seconds.
- Give you a chest X-ray or CT scan
You may get extra oxygen through two small tubes that go just inside your nostrils. In very serious cases, doctors will connect you to a machine that can breathe for you, called a ventilator.
You may also get fluids through a tube, or IV, in your arm to keep you from getting dehydrated. Doctors will also closely monitor your breathing. The goal is for your infection to run its course and for your lungs to heal enough that they can breathe on their own again.
Your doctors may give you an antiviral medicine called remdesivir (Veklury). Remdesivir is the first drug approved by the FDA for treatment of hospitalized COVID patients over the age of 12. Research shows that some patients recover faster after taking it. Remdesivir was created to fight Ebola, but the FDA has issued an emergency use ruling so doctors can use it against COVID-19.
Your doctor might also give you medication to thin your blood and prevent clots.
If you take drugs such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), or statins for other health problems, your doctor will tell you to continue them as usual.
In January 2022, the FDA limited the use of two monoclonal treatments that previously were used to treat COVID-19 infections after it was found that they were not effective against the Omicron variant. These two monoclonal antibody treatments are bamlanivimab and etesevimab (administered together) and REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab). Sotrovimab is the only available monoclonal treatment with activity against the Omicron variant.
Two oral antiviral medications, paxlovid and molnupiravir, are available for outpatients with mild to moderate COVID-19 under FDA emergency use authorization. Both are taken twice a day for 5 days.
Many clinical trials are underway to explore treatments used for other conditions that could fight COVID-19 and to develop new ones. The FDA has also granted an EAU of blood plasma from people who've recovered from COVID-19 in order to help patients with severe or life-threatening cases. You'll hear this called convalescent plasma.
Clinical trials are under way for other medications, including tocilizumab, which has been used to treat autoimmune conditions and an inflammatory condition called cytokine release syndrome.
The FDA rescinded its emergency authorization for the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 amid serious concerns about their safety and how well they worked against the virus. The medications are approved to treat malaria and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
One study found that dexamethasone, a common steroid medication, can help people who are hospitalized with severe COVID-19 complications. But the findings are preliminary, and the researchers haven’t released the full study.
If you test positive for COVID-19 and want to enroll in a clinical trial for treatment, it’s important to do so as soon as possible, while you’re still infected with the virus.
These websites have more information:
- Clinicaltrials.gov. This is a government database of public and private clinical studies worldwide. It also has considerations for joining a clinical trial.
- COVID Dash
- World Without COVID
Individual hospitals, universities, research centers, and others may also offer opportunities to join COVID-19 clinical trials.