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Treating COVID-19

If you or a loved one are sick with COVID-19, any treatments used should be prescribed by your healthcare provider.

If You are High Risk for Severe Illness

Many individuals, including those who live with chronic lung disease, are at high risk for severe illness if they get sick with COVID-19. In this case, your doctor may recommend you receive an investigational treatment, monoclonal antibodies, which can help your immune system fight off the virus, so you are less likely to get severely ill.

It is important to speak with your doctor as soon as possible once you are confirmed to have COVID-19 to determine if this is an appropriate treatment for you to have since it should be taken as soon as possible, and within 10 days of when you started feeling ill. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed a search tool to find distribution locations for this treatment that is given via IV in a specialized clinic. Patients should coordinate care with their healthcare provider before reaching out to a distribution location.

If You are Treated in the Hospital

There is currently one drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19

  • Remdesivir, an antiviral which has been shown to shorten the recovery time needed in some hospitalized patients 

The FDA has also issued emergency use authorization (EUAs) for certain medications that your healthcare provider may prescribe as treatment of COVID-19. Depending on your situation, you may receive:

  • Dexamethasone, a corticosteroid used to prevent or reduce inflammation in hospitalized patients with severe illness who need supplemental oxygen
  • Tocilizumab or baricitinib, biological therapy used to reduce inflammation in hospitalized patients with severe illness requiring oxygen delivery through a high-flow device, invasive mechanical ventilation or ECMO, if used in addition to dexamethasone

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly updates treatment recommendations based on the expert panel at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who have developed and regularly update the NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines.

Supportive care is given for mild to severe symptoms. Supportive care means treating the symptoms while the disease runs its course. 

If your mild-to-moderate symptoms are being treated at home:

Emergency Warning Signs

Seek emergency care if you start having trouble breathing, experience pain or pressure in your chest, experience new confusion or inability to wake or stay awake, or develop a bluish tinge to your lips or face.
  • Stay home from work, school and other public places. Have groceries delivered or ask a family member or friend to pick up needed essentials for you and drop at your door.
  • Monitor your symptoms and report any changes to your healthcare provider via phone.
  • Separate yourself from others. This is known as home isolation. As much as possible, stay away from other people in your home by dedicating a sick room and use a separate bathroom, if available.
  • Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
  • Cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue that you throw away immediately after.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid sharing personal items with other people in your household, like dishes, towels, and bedding
  • Clean all surfaces that are touched often, like counters, tabletops, and doorknobs. Use household cleaning sprays or wipes according to the label instructions.

Older adults and individuals of any age living with underlying health conditions such as COPD, are more likely to develop severe symptoms. However, there have been reported cases of people in all age groups developing severe symptoms. Contact your healthcare provider if you start showing symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are mild, regardless of your age or health status. Your provider will discuss testing options with you and help you monitor your symptoms and recovery.

Recovering from COVID-19

When to discontinue home isolation. If you have stayed home due to illness from confirmed or suspected COVID-19 you should follow the guidance of your healthcare provider and local health department on when to end home isolation. Multiple factors are taken into account in determining when it is safe for you to return to work or emerge from self-quarantine. For instance, longer periods of home isolation may be recommended for individuals who are severely immunocompromised.

In most cases, your doctor will make one of the following recommendations based on your circumstances:

Experiencing SymptomsNo Symptoms (Asymptomatic)
Viral tested for current infectionStay home, and distanced from others, for at least ten days since the symptoms first appeared, fever has been gone at least 24 hours without using fever reducing medications and with improvement of other symptoms.Stay home, and distanced from others, for at least ten days since the viral test came back positive. Monitor yourself for symptoms.
Not viral tested for current infection or haven’t received resultsStay home, and distanced from others, for at least ten days since the symptoms first appeared, fever has been gone at least 24 hours without using fever reducing medications and with improvement of other symptoms.Stay home, and distanced from others, for at least 14 days.
*This scenario assumes you have been potentially exposed to the virus and are isolating to prevent the possible spread of infection.

Regaining Your Strength After Severe Illness

There is much we are still learning about COVID-19, including any lasting effects on the lungs and other body organs affected. This disease has not been seen in humans before so long-term or permanent damage to the lungs is something that will be studied for years to come.

While there is still much to learn about recovering from COVID-19, experience with other types of lung infections provides medical experts with some idea of what you may expect. Your path to recovery will be unique, depending on your overall health, the treatment provided and any co-existing conditions such as COPD, asthma or another chronic lung disease.  

Some people feel better and able to return to their normal routines within a week. For others, recovery will likely be slower, taking a month or more. Don’t rush your recovery.  Get adequate rest and follow your doctor’s guidance on when to return to a normal routine. 

Now is a great time to recommit to good health practices that keep your lungs functioning at their best, including eating healthy food, getting adequate rest and avoiding exposure to smoke and air pollution. Exercise is also important to keeping your lungs healthy. Your doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation to ease back into your prior activity levels, especially if your illness was prolonged and severe. 

Depending on your experience with COVID-19, the following complications may have occurred and may require additional support and recovery.  

  • Pneumonia, a lung infection that can be life threatening. 
  • Lung abscesses, which are infrequent, but serious complications of pneumonia. They occur when pockets of pus form inside or around the lung. These may sometimes need to be drained with surgery.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a severe form of respiratory failure.

Our Lung HelpLine is answering questions about COVID-19. Contact our Lung HelpLine by calling 1-800-LUNGUSA or submitting a question online.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: October 4, 2021

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