Treating COVID-19 at home: Care tips for you and others
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Nov 25, 2022.
If you have coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and you're caring for yourself at home or you're caring for a loved one with COVID-19 at home, you might have questions. How do you know when emergency care is needed? How long do you need to isolate? What can you do to prevent the spread of germs? How can you support a sick loved one and manage your stress? Here's what you need to know.
Most people who become sick with COVID-19 will only have mild illness and can get better at home. Symptoms might last a few days. People who have the virus might feel better in about a week. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and includes:
- Pain relievers
But adults over age 65 and people of any age with existing long-lasting (chronic) medical conditions should call their health care provider as soon as symptoms start. These factors put people at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. People with these conditions who get COVID-19 may also be eligible for certain treatments. These treatments need to start within a few days after symptoms start.
Follow the health care provider's suggestions about care and staying at home (isolating). Talk to the provider if you have any questions about treatments. Help the sick person get food and any medication needed. And, if needed, take care of the person's pet.
Also think about how caring for a sick person might affect your health. If you are age 65 or older or have an existing long-lasting (chronic) medical condition, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, you may be at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19. You might think about staying away from the sick person and finding another person to provide care. Also, you might choose to wear a face mask that gives higher protection.
Emergency warning signs
Carefully watch yourself or your loved one for signs and symptoms that are getting worse.
The health care provider might suggest use of a home pulse oximeter, especially if the sick person has risk factors for severe illness with COVID-19 and COVID-19 symptoms. A pulse oximeter is a plastic clip that attaches to a finger. The device can help check breathing by measuring how much oxygen is in the blood. A reading of less than 92% might increase the need for staying in the hospital. If the provider recommends a pulse oximeter, make sure you understand how to use the device properly. And make sure you know when a reading should prompt a call to the provider.
If symptoms seem to be getting worse, call the provider.
If you or the person with COVID-19 has emergency warning signs, get medical attention right away. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you notice any emergency signs, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- New confusion
- Trouble staying awake
- Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds — depending on skin tone
This list doesn't include all symptoms. Call the provider if you or the person with COVID-19 has other severe symptoms.
Protecting others if you're ill
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested as soon as you can after your symptoms start. Stay home until you receive results.
If you're ill with COVID-19, you can help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
- Stay home from work, school and public areas unless it's to get medical care.
- Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing services or taxis.
- Stay isolated in one room, away from your family, others and pets, as much as you can. Eat in your room. Open windows to keep air moving. Fans can help direct air out of windows.
- If you can't open windows, consider using air filters. And turn on exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchen. You might also consider a portable air cleaner. Use a separate bathroom if you can.
- Avoid shared space in your home as much as you can. When using shared spaces, limit your movements. Make sure your kitchen and other shared spaces have good air flow. Stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from your family members.
- Clean often-touched surfaces in your separate room and bathroom, such as doorknobs, light switches, electronics and counters, every day.
- Avoid sharing personal household items, such as dishes, towels, bedding and electronics such as phones.
- Wear the most protective face mask that you'll wear regularly, fits well and is comfortable when near others or pets. Change the face mask each day.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing. Then throw away the tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't nearby, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
Protecting yourself while caring for someone with COVID-19
To protect yourself while caring for someone with COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend:
- Keep your hands clean and away from your face. Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important to do after being in close contact or in the same room as the sick person. If soap and water aren't nearby, use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Wear a face mask. If you need to be in the same room with the person who is ill, wear the most protective face mask that you'll wear regularly, fits well and is comfortable. Don't have any direct physical contact with the person. Don't touch or handle your mask while you are using it. If your mask gets wet or dirty, swap it with a clean, dry mask. Throw away the used mask and wash your hands.
- Clean your home often. Use household cleaning sprays or wipes to clean surfaces that are often touched, such as counters, tabletops and doorknobs. Avoid cleaning the sick person's separate room and bathroom. Set aside bedding and utensils for the sick person only to use.
- Avoid direct contact with the sick person's fluids. Wear gloves and a face mask when providing care and when handling stool, urine or other waste. Before you put on your gloves and mask, wash your hands. Also wash your hands after removing your gloves and mask. Don't reuse your mask or gloves.
- Avoid having visitors in your home. Don't allow visitors until the sick person has completely gotten better and doesn't have any COVID-19 signs or symptoms.
Ending isolation or quarantine
If you have COVID-19
Isolation is used to separate people with the COVID-19 virus from those who aren't sick. Talk to the health care provider about when to end home isolation if you have a weakened immune system. If you think or know you had COVID-19 and had symptoms, the CDC recommends that it's OK to be around others after:
- At least five days have passed since your symptoms started. Wear a high-quality mask when you're around others for five more days. If you have COVID-19 home tests, you can take tests two days apart, starting on day six. If your results are negative on both tests, you can stop masking. If you don't do the home test, wear a mask around others for 10 days.
- At least 24 hours have passed with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medication on day six.
- Other symptoms are improving — loss of taste and smell might last for weeks or months after recovery but shouldn't delay ending isolation.
These recommendations may vary if you have had severe COVID-19 or have a weakened immune system. The CDC recommends waiting until at least day 11 to get together with people who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. And if your symptoms get worse, go back to isolating and talk to your health care provider.
Most people don't need testing to decide when they can be around others.
If you're a healthcare worker with COVID-19, the time you can return to work may vary.
If you've been exposed to someone with COVID-19
If you're caring for someone with COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you get tested at least five days after being exposed, or sooner if you have symptoms. The CDC also recommends that you wear a high-quality mask for 10 days while indoors in public areas. Try to stay away from people in your household. If you have symptoms, stay home and in a separate room from others. If you don't have symptoms, you don't need to stay home and away from others (quarantine).
Coping with caregiving stress
As you or your loved one gets better, seek support. Stay connected to others through texts or phone or video calls. Share your worries. Avoid too much COVID-19 news. Rest and focus on fun activities, such as reading, watching movies or playing online games.
As you take care of a loved one who is ill with COVID-19, you might feel stressed too. You might worry about your health and the health of the sick person. This can affect your ability to eat, sleep and focus. And it can worsen long-lasting (chronic) health problems. It may also increase your use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
If you have a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, continue with your treatment. Contact your care provider or mental health provider if your condition worsens.
To care for yourself, follow these steps:
- Keep a daily routine, such as taking a shower and getting dressed.
- Take breaks from COVID-19 news and social media.
- Eat healthy meals and drink plenty of fluids.
- Stay physically active.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol.
- Stretch, breathe deeply or meditate.
- Focus on fun activities.
- Connect with others and share how you are feeling.
Caring for yourself can help you cope with stress. It will also help you be able to support your loved one's recovery.