Here’s What You Should Do If You Have a ‘Mild’ Case of COVID-19

  • Common symptoms for “mild” cases of COVID-19 include sore throat, coughing, and fever.
  • There’s no shortcut to getting over the virus other than best-practice advice such as staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest, and monitoring symptoms.
  • Those with mild symptoms should follow the CDC’s guidelines to limit further transmission.
  • Those at higher risk due to age or underlying conditions, or those with more severe symptoms, such as chest pain and difficulty breathing, should seek medical attention.

As of today, there are more than 570,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States.

The symptoms in these cases have ranged from almost none at all to those requiring immediate hospitalization.

“There is a really wide spectrum of illness associated with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” explained Dr. Nate Favini, MS, medical lead at Forward healthcare services. “Fever, cough, sore throat, and shortness of breath are common symptoms, but we’ve seen everything from asymptomatic cases through to critical illness and death.”

While more serious symptoms should prompt a hospital visit, those with non-life-threatening symptoms are being advised to stay home and avoid overtaxing an already strained medical system.

But how does one draw the line between serious and nonserious symptoms?

When can they give themselves the all-clear?

Is there a shortcut to get over COVID-19?

Here’s what medical experts told Healthline.

Self-isolation vs. self-quarantine

All nonessential workers have been advised to stay home in self-quarantine to slow the progress of the virus.

While this helps limit contact with strangers, staying home increases the amount of time spent with family members or roommates.

In these cases, it’s difficult to avoid the risk of transmission.

“The best advice is: If you can’t get tested, act like your symptoms are COVID-19 until proven otherwise,” Favini told Healthline. “You should alert those who you have been in contact with so they can self-quarantine to prevent possibly spreading the virus further.”

Self-isolation involves having no contact with anybody, including those who live in the same household.

When is it safe to end a self-isolation?

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that self-quarantine and self-isolation can stop when it’s been 7 days since the onset of symptoms and 72 hours since symptoms disappeared.

“For those who have been exposed to a confirmed case but did not develop symptoms, we recommend self-quarantining for 14 days from the day you were exposed because you can develop symptoms anywhere between 2 and 14 days after your exposure,” Dr. Joshua Mansour, an oncologist at City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles, told Healthline.

“It’s worth noting that this is the best guidance we have from the CDC today, but we don’t really know exactly when it’s OK for someone to come out of isolation,” he cautioned. “This seems like a reasonable starting point to me, but it’s possible that this will change as we learn more about the virus.”

Dr. Nir Goldstein, FCCP, a pulmonologist and leader of the post-COVID-19 clinic at National Jewish Health, also pointed out some of the unknowns currently surrounding the virus.

“We don’t have data regarding reinfection after recovery and so for now, we should assume that it’s possible,” Goldstein told Heathline. “As blood tests develop and more data is applied, we’ll know more. In general, the viral shedding declines over time, so the longer you wait after recovery, the less chance you have of still shedding the viruses. Currently, we say at least 7 days, but there have been cases where the shedding has been reported up to a month after recovery.”

“So you should still maintain social isolation and take precautions even if you’re a week or two after recovery,” he added.

How to treat your symptoms

As noted, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are sore throat, coughing, fever, and shortness of breath.

Without a proper test, it’s difficult to know whether these symptoms indicate COVID-19 or something else.

Nonetheless, the methods of treating them are the same.

Fever symptoms are important to keep an eye on.

“A fever can be dangerous, especially when it reaches certain temperatures or if it continues for a prolonged period of time,” Mansour told Healthline. “A very high fever or a low fever causing discomfort should be treated.”

Mansour said treatment options include cooling blankets or ice packs, along with over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen, which is sold under the brand name Tylenol.

The age-old advice of drinking fluids to avoid dehydration also applies.

For other symptoms, there’s no shortcut to getting past the illness — just steps that can be taken to lessen its severity and duration.

“There is no specific therapy for this viral, so there are no specific steps aside from general common sense things like keeping hydrated, sleeping well, eating well, and staying active,” said Goldstein. “But there are no specific therapies that have an impact.”

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. While some sources online have suggested breathing exercises as a way to get over the illness or avoid contracting the virus in the first place, Favini notes that there’s no evidence suggesting that breathing exercises are helpful.

When is it a problem?

Hospitals are overloaded, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, for most people to book an appointment with their doctor.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to navigate their symptoms alone.

For anyone who feels ill, Favini recommends reaching out to a family doctor via videoconferencing. A virtual consultation can help assess symptoms and determine how severe a case may be.

Mansour says it’s important to watch out for symptoms that could be dangerous.

“If symptoms are severe, you should reach out to your healthcare provider immediately,” he said. “These symptoms include but are not limited to difficulty breathing, excessive fatigue, chest pain, fever that does not break, and change in vision.”

Another factor that can affect the severity of symptoms is age, as the virus is deadlier to older populations.

“People who are elderly or have underlying medical problems should probably seek medical attention,” said Goldstein. “People who are otherwise healthy and whose main symptoms are a cough or fever can usually stay at home unless shortness of breath develops.”

These experts said that given the fact that test availability isn’t widespread, the best practice is to keep things simple and stay home.

“Unfortunately, testing for COVID-19 is still in limited supply across the country,” said Favini. “If you’re not able to get tested and have any of the symptoms described, the safest thing to do is to isolate yourself at home as if you have COVID-19 so you are not contributing to the spread of the virus.”

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