Coronavirus

Are you sick at home with COVID? Here’s how to treat those nasty symptoms

Are you sick at home with COVID-19?

Doctors say most adults and children won’t need medical care because their symptoms will be slight and eventually run their course — especially if they’ve been vaccinated.

The shots boost your chances that your illness won’t put you in the hospital or kill you.

In most cases, COVID-19 can be treated at home like the flu or a cold. So we’ve gleaned at-home care advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials.

What to have on hand

There are basically three ways to take care of yourself at home with COVID-19. Rest. Stay hydrated. Take over-the-counter medications to help you feel better.

Antibiotics aren’t effective because they work against bacteria, not viruses. Health officials also warn against using products not authorized for use against COVID-19 by the Food and Drug Administration, including ivermectin, a drug used for both animals and humans.

Infections can dehydrate you. Drink water, obviously, but also broth, herbal teas, juices and drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade and Pedialyte, which isn’t just for children.

Signs of dehydration include weakness, a dry mouth and tongue and producing less urine, which can become dark-colored. If the sick person becomes unresponsive, call 911.

If you get dehydrated, drink fluids through frequent sips or spoonfuls over a four-hour period.

Doctors recommend having on hand acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example) and ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin) for fever, headaches and other aches and pains, and cold medicine such as Mucinex to relieve coughs and chest congestion.

You’ll need all those other cold and flu season tools, too: tissues, cough drops, soup and Jell-O, which are easy on the stomach.

Send someone else to get your supplies or have them delivered. Because you need to …

Stay home

Staying home seems so obvious. But we all know people who drag themselves to work sick or send kids to school sick, and that was even before the pandemic.

The advice carries more weight now, especially since the omicron variant is highly contagious.

Stay out of public areas, public transportation and ride-sharing vehicles.

For how long? The CDC has updated its isolation and quarantine recommendations. Bottom line: If you tested positive or have symptoms — whether or not you’re vaccinated — stay home and isolate from others for at least five days, then wear a mask for another five.

Keep your doctor informed

Stay in touch with your doctor, the CDC advises. But if you’re infected, don’t just show up at the office. Call ahead.

Even though most people who get COVID-19 will only experience mild illness, the Mayo Clinic recommends older adults and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions call their doctor as soon as symptoms begin because they are at greater risk of getting seriously ill.

If possible, have someone — an appointed caretaker — monitor you in case your symptoms get worse.

The CDC advises taking your temperature if symptoms worsen, but don’t take it within 30 minutes of exercising or after taking medications like acetaminophen that can lower it.

Have a pulse oximeter?

Your doctor might recommend using a home pulse oximeter, a plastic device that clips onto your finger and measures the oxygen in your blood. A reading of less than 92% might mean you need to be hospitalized, says the Mayo Clinic.

If your doctor wants you to use one, health officials advise making sure you read manufacturer’s instructions because results might be inaccurate if it’s used improperly.

Keep away from housemates

Even inside your home you need to keep away from other people in the household so you don’t infect them.

That’s especially important if they’re not fully vaccinated — which at this point includes children younger than 5 who aren’t eligible yet — and anyone with a weakened immune system or underlying health conditions.

If possible, stay at least six feet away from them. If you can stay in a separate room or part of the house away from everyone else — a spare bedroom? the basement? — do that.

If you can use a different bathroom, do that, too. If you can’t, disinfect surfaces that you touch.

Don’t share things like dishes, utensils and towels, all of which should be washed thoroughly after you use them.

And though it might feel silly or be inconvenient, wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth if you need to be around others in the house. You don’t need to wear it when you’re alone.

Make sure it fits well, which means it doesn’t gape at the sides. Anyone providing direct care for you should consider wearing an N95 mask, more effective than cloth masks.

Cover those sneezes

Some coughing-and-sneezing 101:

If you cough or sneeze into your mask, put on a new, clean one ASAP and wash your hands.

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have soap, clean with a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.

Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or direct it to the inside of your elbow.

Clean and disinfect

To keep everyone in the house safe, be vigilant about cleaning high-touch surfaces in the bathroom you’re using and room where you’re staying — doorknobs, light switches, tables, phones, faucets, toilets.

If someone other than the sick person does the cleaning, they should wear a mask and disposable gloves, the CDC says, and should wait as long as possible after the sick person uses the bathroom before going in.

The CDC has advice on its website for disinfecting your home when someone gets COVID-19.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends specific products for disinfecting for coronavirus and says to follow label instructions. Some products, for instance, should be left on a surface for several minutes to kill the germs before they’re wiped off.

Stay away from the dog, too

The CDC says that the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low, but there have been family pets that have been infected from people.

So while you’re staying away from your spouse and kids, don’t be hugging on the family dog or cat for comfort, either.

Check with your vet if you have any questions about how to keep your pet safe. If your pet appears sick, call the vet.

Don’t take your pet to the vet yourself if you have COVID-19. Call ahead and let them know what’s going on.

And, the CDC says, never wipe or bathe your pet with disinfectant, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, hand sanitizer or household cleaners.

When to get emergency help

So how will you know that you might need to make a call to 911 or go to the emergency room? Here are symptoms the CDC says to watch for:

Trouble breathing

Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

New confusion

Inability to wake up or stay awake

Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds.

This list is not all-inclusive. If you have symptoms that concern you, call your doctor.

If you have a history of blood clots, COVID-19 can increase your risk of developing life-threatening ones. Doctors recommend if you see swelling in your legs or have shortness of breath, see a doctor.

Call ahead to the ER and alert them that someone with COVID-19 is coming.

For the caregiver

Caregivers can feel stressed too, worrying about their loved one and their own health.

The Mayo Clinic advises caregivers find emotional support, such as staying in touch with others who can listen to their concerns.

Take a break from social media. Get rest and enjoy activities that calm you, such as reading or watching movies.

Stay hydrated.

If you’re being treated for a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, continue those treatments and contact your health care provider if those symptoms worsen.

Taking care of yourself will help your loved one’s recovery, too.

Lisa Gutierrez writes about medical and health-related issues for The Kansas City Star. She is a Kansas native and veteran of five newsrooms. She was a caregiver for her husband, who had dementia, until he died in July 2019.
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