How to help your body recover from Covid-19
Dr Annette Alaeus, Livi’s infectious diseases expert, has advice on how to give your body the best recovery from Covid-19 — both in the short and long term
Just under 85 million people worldwide have caught Covid-19 and almost 1.8 million have died. Europe is now gripped by a second wave of infections, and in the UK, at least 2 new variants of the virus have emerged.
While most people will recover from Covid at home, and 1 in 6 people who are infected will still have no symptoms at all, coronavirus can still linger for weeks, or even months.
Dr Annette Alaeus, Head of Infectious Diseases at Livi, gives her advice on how to be prepared, what to do if someone catches Covid, and when to get help.
What basic supplies should I have in the house?
Essentials everyone should have to hand are:
- Paracetamol, to reduce fever
- Ibuprofen, in combination with paracetamol, to treat muscle and joint pain and headache, if paracetamol is not enough to reduce the pain or fever. Be aware that patients with certain underlying diseases (severe cardiovascular diseases or renal disease, for example) must discuss with their doctor whether ibuprofen can be used
- An over-the-counter nasal decongestant
- Steroid nasal sprays to reduce inflammation and swelling if sinusitis symptoms appear, but discuss this with a doctor before using it
- A simple linctus or honey to soothe coughs (not for babies under 12 months)
- A codeine linctus to suppress coughing if it becomes distressing. Having said that, there’s no need to panic buy these things or any other household items
- Plenty of hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes, to minimise transmission
Make sure you have at least 2 weeks’ supply of any prescription medicines, and if anyone has pre-existing breathing problems, ask your doctor about inhaled steroids. They open airways and may inhibit the inflammation caused by the virus.
In rare cases Covid can cause blood clots, and being in bed adds to the risk of developing them. So, if you have other risk factors for these — being overweight, taking HRT or a contraceptive containing oestrogen, cancer or having had a previous clot — then Dr Alaeus suggests wearing compression socks or stockings like the ones recommended for long-haul flights.
What if I have Covid symptoms now?
Follow the local rules that apply to you on testing and isolation, treat the symptoms using the essentials listed above and drink plenty of fluids.
Keep your head slightly elevated and, if you’re well enough, every hour or so try to sit up or even better, stand up and move around for a couple of minutes. If you really can’t get out of bed — and don’t worry, this can happen in the first week — at least try to move your legs and arms for a few minutes every so often.
Dr Alaeus says, ‘Regular movement helps maintain your circulation and is also a good way to gauge if you’re getting better or worse. Keep a diary and make a note of your temperature and how you feel each morning, afternoon and evening. If you can, ask someone to take your pulse.’
If you’re feeling a little breathless, try lying on your stomach or side for a short period. It’s scary, but try not to panic. Breathe in slowly through your nose, and out through your mouth, as if blowing out a candle.
Open the windows for at least half an hour each day to ventilate and cool the room, and make sure everyone else in the household wears a mask if they come close.
When should I get help?
The good news is that Dr Alaeus says most people will begin to feel better within a week or so of developing symptoms, and most recover in 2 weeks.
But she advises getting help if you feel breathless and it’s getting worse, or if there’s no improvement in your symptoms after a week.
Is there anything I can do to help recover from Covid?
The most important thing is to listen to your body, and not try to do too much, too quickly. ‘It will take time for your body to recover,’ says Dr Alaeus.
If you’re eating a balanced diet with a variety of fruit and vegetables, you should not need to take any extra vitamins, and she warns that excess vitamin D can be harmful. But children should continue to take the recommended supplements containing vitamins A and D.
If your symptoms included diarrhoea, probiotic drinks and yogurts might help restore beneficial bacteria to your gut.
Slowly try to become more active by walking around the house. Don’t worry if there are some days when you are very tired and can’t do much.
Dr Alaeus advises, ‘If you have lost your sense of smell, start to train your nervous system by trying to identify a variety of strong scents like curry spices, eucalyptus, lavender and lemon at least once a day.’
Is it normal for Covid to affect my day-to-day functioning?
Covid affects people differently, and around 1 in 10 people are sick for 3 weeks or more.
Lingering problems can include breathlessness, fatigue, chest pain, loss of smell or taste, confusion and generalised neurological symptoms which are often described as ‘brain fog’.
It’s also natural for people to feel anxious or worried about the long-term impact on their health and daily life. Try to take things a day at a time and focus on small gains.
What if I’m still struggling 6 weeks after having Covid?
Dr Alaeus says if symptoms persist for 6 weeks, you might have Long Covid, in which case further investigation is essential. Book an appointment with a doctor to suggest next steps. There’s a lot of research going on regarding these ‘long-lasting’ symptoms and multidisciplinary efforts are being made as we speak.
To support people recovering from Covid, the NHS has set up Your COVID Recovery — an online rehabilitation programme that links patients to local rehabilitation teams to monitor their progress and make sure they’re on track with their care.
Are there any special Covid treatments for children?
Children generally recover quickly, but some young children have experienced hyper-inflammation within 4 to 6 weeks of catching Covid. This needs urgent medical care. Warning signs are bloodshot eyes, high temperature, rapid breathing, stomach pains, headache and dizziness, enlarged lymph glands in the neck, groin or armpit and rash, hands and feet becoming very red and/or puffy.
How can I look after my mental health during and after Covid-19?
Having Covid can be scary, so try to remember that it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious or fearful.
Give yourself permission to be worried and set aside some ‘worry time’ to acknowledge your feelings — then try to keep busy with other activities and distractions. Gradually get back to interests you enjoy and try relaxation techniques like mindfulness and meditation.
If you continue to experience distressing thoughts and images, you can speak to a Livi doctor or another health professional as there are other therapies and counselling that can help.
This article has been approved by Dr Annette Alaeus, Kry/Livi Head of Infectious Diseases.
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