How to treat mild COVID-19 symptoms at home


by David Winter, MD

Mar 21, 2020

Information and guidance about COVID-19 care and vaccination continues to evolve. Please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest.

Most people who become ill with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) will experience mild symptoms and can recover fully at home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you’re experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms, contact your primary care physician or set up an eVisit or video visit. Unless your doctor recommends otherwise, stay home to help minimize the spread of the virus. However, if you have an underlying medical condition, your doctor may recommend a different approach to your care.

Staying home helps protect those around you and slow the spread of the virus within your community. This is because COVID-19 depends on jumping from one person to another to stay alive. The virus is believed to be transmitted from person to person between people in close contact with one another and through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. COVID-19 is very good at this, meaning it is very contagious—even more so than the flu or common cold.

If your symptoms are mild and your doctor recommends isolating at home, follow these guidelines for recovery:

  • Drink lots of water and get plenty of rest.
  • Manage your symptoms with over-the-counter medications. Over-the-counter cough medications work well to suppress a cough, decongestants can help with congestion and acetaminophen can help with aches.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and heavy exercise, as these activities may worsen your symptoms. 
  • Stay home and at least 6 feet away from everyone else.
  • Designate one bedroom as yours and spend most of your time there. 
  • If possible, designate a bathroom for your individual use. If not, disinfect all surfaces that you touch after each use, including the toilet flush handle and all doorknobs.
  • Wear a mask if anyone is near you. If you do not have a mask, use a handkerchief or even a pillowcase to cover your mouth and nose.
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue.
  • If anyone touches anything that you have touched, have them thoroughly wash or disinfect their hands. The virus appears to able to stay alive on surfaces for several days.
  • If you begin to have trouble breathing or become excessively fatigued or confused, seek medical attention. Watch for signs of a medical emergency, including difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that you have or are being evaluated for COVID-19. If available, put on a face mask before emergency medical services arrive.

If symptoms resolve, you should no longer be contagious after 14 days, but check with your doctor before spending time in close proximity to others.

If you are caring for a family member who is sick with COVID-19, take extra precautions to help minimize your risk:

  • Wear a face mask, face shield, gown, gloves and shoe covers when in close proximity.
  • After leaving their presence, remove all the protective gear before carefully and thoroughly washing and disinfecting your hands. 
  • Wash all utensils, plates, bowls and glasses in hot water and dry thoroughly. Then, wash and disinfect your hands again.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit

About the Author

David Winter, MD, is an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Signature Medicine – Tom Landry.

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