While hospitals continue to field a surge in COVID-19 cases, the vast majority of infected people will ride out their illness at home. Sarasota Memorial Hospital has shared a conversation between Dr. Jack Rodman, chief medical officer of First Physicians Group, and Dr. Joseph Seaman, a critical care pulmonologist about how best to care for yourself as you battle the disease.
“The virus uses humans, and our cells, to serve the role of duplicating itself,” says Rodman. “That process causes damage to our cells, our epithelium in our upper respiratory tract. Ultimately the virus can cause a multitude of symptoms based on that damage.”
The most common side effects of COVID-19 infection are fever, cough, tiredness or fatigue, and shortness of breath. “If you have mild symptoms and your vital signs are normal, just staying home is the best thing,” says Seaman. “If you are experiencing severe symptoms, definitely seek hospital care. If you’re having chest pain, your blood pressure is severely low or severely high, you should not try to tough it out. That’s what the emergency room is for.”
Likewise, if your symptoms—especially fever—last longer than a week, it’s time to call your primary care physician for guidance. “The average onset of symptoms after exposure is usually around four to six days,” says Rodman. “If it’s been seven or eight days and you’re not getting better, it’s certainly a time for concern.”
Seaman stresses the basics we’ve all heard since the pandemic began: “Wearing a mask, being keen on social distancing and hygiene is taking care of the community as a whole. We’re all in this together. That sense of accomplishment when we drive down these numbers is going to happen.”
Here are some of the doctors’ recommendations for the speediest possible COVID-19 recovery at home.
If You're Sick
Monitor your symptoms. Keeping track of your temperature and, if possible, blood pressure and even blood-oxygen levels will let you objectively track your symptoms and allow you to provide that info to your caregivers if necessary.
Stay hydrated. “It depends on your size, but typically 1.5 to 2 liters a day of fluid, with a disease like this, would be adequate,” says Rodman. “Water is great, but excessive water without electrolyte balance can sometimes be an issue.” Watered-down sports drinks like Gatorade work just fine.
Eat healthy. “You may not feel like eating or drinking during this virus, but you have to give your body the calorie intake it needs to fight it off,” says Seaman.
Manage your symptoms. Over-the-counter medications can help. Tylenol (acetaminophen) can address aches and lower fever. Cough medicines, saline nasal sprays and throat lozenges can also help.
Rest a lot—but not too much. You may feel like staying in bed all day, but it’s important to move around and exercise your lungs to avoid secondary bacterial infections like pneumonia. “Every hour, on the hour, you need to get up and walk through your house for no other reason but to move,” says Seaman. “Take deep breaths and purposefully cough to clear the phlegm from your lungs.”
Continue taking your regular medications. If you have existing medical problems, be sure to stay up to date with your meds. Depending on the condition, you may even want to call your physician to see if an adjustment is needed.
Avoid infecting others. If possible, sleep in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom from others in your household. Both you and your caregivers should wear masks if you can’t socially distance. Everyone should wash their hands regularly and avoid sharing items.
Create a “COVID Kit.” If you’re not yet sick, you can put together some supplies—similar to a hurricane kit—to have on hand if illness sets in.
- A list of emergency contacts, including friends and family, as well as medical providers.
- Face masks and gloves for your caregiver and yourself.
- Medical monitors including a thermometer and, if possible, blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter.
- Household cleaning supplies for sanitizing items.
- Extra sheets and towels.
- A notebook for recording symptoms and writing down questions you want to ask.
If You Want to Help Someone Else Who Is Sick
Regular communication. Call two or three times a day to check in and alleviate isolation.
Contribute medical supplies. Provide them with the tools they need to self-monitor.
Shop for groceries. Just leave them at the front door to avoid contact.
Make meals. “You can continue to support, engage, and give them the things they need to take care of themselves,” says Rodman.