Most people who get COVID-19 experience mild symptoms that go away within a week. But even with mild symptoms, it’s hard to feel your best. The good news is that there are at-home treatments that can help you feel better, sooner.

It’s also important to know when to get medical treatment to make sure that your mild symptoms don’t turn into severe illness. Read on to learn about mild COVID-19, the best ways to treat your symptoms, supplies that’ll help, and when to talk to your doctor.

How do you know if you have a mild case of COVID-19?

Mild COVID-19 symptoms vs. moderate or severe symptoms

If your only COVID-19 symptoms are a runny nose, sore throat and a headache, does that mean you have a mild case of COVID-19? If you have a high fever and body aches, will it end up being more serious?

The truth is that during the early stages of COVID-19, it can be hard to tell if your symptoms will be mild or more severe. That’s because almost all COVID-19 symptoms can be present in a mild case of COVID-19.

The only COVID-19 symptoms that are not generally seen in people with mild cases are labored breathing and shortness of breath. If you notice these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Otherwise, the main differences between mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 tend to be:

  • The intensity of the symptoms
  • How many symptoms you have
  • How long the symptoms last

Mild COVID-19 symptoms vs. the flu, a cold and allergies

Many people who get mild symptoms of COVID-19 say that it feels like the common cold. But mild COVID-19 can also be like the flu or allergies – the following resources highlight how to tell the difference:

Getting a COVID-19 test is usually the only way to know for sure if you have the coronavirus or something else.

Are some people more likely to get mild COVID-19?

If you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to get COVID-19. But if you do get sick, it’s more likely that you’ll get mild breakthrough COVID-19 that can be treated at home. This is especially true if you’re up to date on your recommended COVID-19 booster shots.

If you’re unvaccinated, you’re more likely to get COVID-19 – no matter the variant. You’re also much more likely to develop long-haul COVID-19 symptoms that can last for months.

If children get COVID-19, they are more likely to have mild COVID-19 symptoms – whether or not they are vaccinated. However, getting your child vaccinated can reduce their chance of getting COVID-19 and prevent them from spreading it to others.

How long do mild COVID-19 symptoms last?

Everyone is different, so it’s hard to give an exact timeframe. But mild COVID-19 symptoms often go away in five days. If your symptoms last for more than two weeks, contact your doctor – especially if your symptoms are getting worse instead of better.

Is it possible to tell if COVID-19 will become severe?

It’s not always possible to tell if mild COVID-19 will become worse. However, there are some risk factors that make it more likely your illness will turn into severe COVID-19, including:

  • Being unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated
  • Being moderately or severely immunocompromised
  • Having chronic medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and lung disease
  • Being middle aged or older

If you have risk factors that make it more likely that you’ll get severe illness, there are treatments to reduce your chance of severe COVID-19 – but they need to start within the first 5-7 days of your first symptoms.

If you were tested at a HealthPartners clinic, we’ll contact you if you’re at risk of severe illness. If you’ve received a positive COVID-19 test result from a home test, call your clinic.

How to treat COVID-19 at home if you have mild symptoms

Stay home and isolate

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you should stay home, and away from others, for at least five days if you have COVID-19. This applies even if you have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Staying home will reduce the chance of spreading the coronavirus to others, including people who may get a worse case because they are older, immunocompromised or unvaccinated.

After five days, you can leave self-isolation if your symptoms are resolving and you’ve been fever-free, without the use of medicine, for at least 24 hours. As you resume normal activities, continue to wear a mask that fits well for five more days when you’re around others. If possible, wear a N95, KN95 or KF94 as those masks are generally more effective at blocking the airborne particles that spread the coronavirus.

If you’re wondering why you still need to wear a mask even after you leave isolation, it’s because you may still be positive for COVID-19. If you have access to at-home COVID-19 antigen tests, you can choose to use testing to determine when you can stop masking.

If you choose to use testing, you should wait until at least Day 6 to take your first test. Then, you can test again every 48 hours. Once you have two negative tests in a row, you can stop masking. If you don’t test following your isolation period, you should continue masking until it's been five full days since you stopped isolating.

Gather the supplies you need for COVID-19 isolation

When you’re in self-isolation, you won’t be able to leave the house. So, it’s good to have some essentials on hand. Of course, if you’re in a pinch, there are ways to get groceries, household goods and even prescriptions delivered to your door through the help of relatives, friends or a delivery service.

Helpful supplies for COVID-19 isolation

Grocery items Medicines and supplies Household products
Fruits and vegetables, including frozen or canned PA 30-day supply of your prescription medications Hand sanitizer
Shelf stable food, such as noodles, pasta sauce, rice, soup and broth Thermometer Facial tissues
Honey Fever-reducing medicine like acetaminophen (Tylenol) Toilet paper
Bottled water Cough and cold medicines Antibacterial household cleaning spray or wipes
Green tea At-home COVID-19 PCR or antigen tests Trashcan with removable liner
Pet food Pulse oximeter Extra sheets, towels and pajamas

8 home remedies for COVID-19

If you have mild COVID-19, it’s likely that your sickness will go away on its own. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel completely miserable. Here are some ways you can ease your symptoms, heal and get better sooner.

1. Sleep

If you have COVID-19, getting enough sleep is necessary to help your body fight off the infection. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, ask your doctor if a melatonin supplement could help.

If your symptoms are keeping you awake, use pillows to elevate your head since it’s harder to breath when you’re flat on your back, especially if you’re congested.

2. Stay hydrated

When you’re sick, your body can lose lots of fluids, especially if you have a high fever, diarrhea or have been vomiting. It’s important to replace those fluids – the best way to do this is by drinking lots of water. Tap water is generally fine but if the sink you’d use for water is shared by others, you may want to use bottled water so that you don’t get your germs on the faucet while getting water. Chances are you’ll be better within five days but it’s best to have a two-week supply of bottled water on hand.

If you have bad diarrhea, a sports drink like Gatorade can replace electrolytes – essential minerals like sodium, calcium and potassium. Electrolytes help your cells absorb and use the fluids you’re drinking.

Another thing to consider is a cup of green tea. Studies on green tea and COVID-19 have found the beverage contains a compound that may work against the coronavirus. The bonus is that warm tea feels great on a sore throat.

3. Keep eating

The idea of digging into a plate of food isn’t always appetizing when you’re sick. And if you lose your sense of smell and taste when you have COVID-19, you may find that eating even your favorite foods is no longer enjoyable. But food is an important part of recovery. By eating, you give your body nourishment to heal itself.

While it’s easy to look for comfort in junk food when you’re feeling under the weather, healthier options can give you energy and possibly help you heal faster. Some great choices include bananas, oatmeal, yogurt, salmon and leafy green vegetables.

If you can’t stomach anything big, try drinking a little bit of warm broth every few hours. That way your body will get some nourishment. Plus, the broth will help you stay hydrated.

4. Take your prescription medications

Unless instructed by your doctor, continue to take all prescription medications and do your best to manage your other health conditions. This is especially important if you have asthma, a respiratory condition, or other chronic medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

Being in poor health makes it more likely that a mild case of COVID-19 could turn into a worse case. If you think you’re at higher risk of severe COVID, talk to your doctor about treatments designed to prevent severe COVID-19.

5. Use over-the-counter medicine for symptom relief

Even if you have mild COVID-19 symptoms, you’re probably not feeling your best. So, if you’re wondering what you can take to ease your symptoms, several over-the-counter medications can help.

The following are treatment suggestions for adults with mild COVID-19. The recommendations are different if a child gets sick with COVID-19 as using honey and medications can be dangerous depending on a child’s age. As always, check with your doctor or your child’s doctor before giving any new medications.

For fever and pain

If you have a fever, you don’t necessarily need to treat it. In fact, fevers play a role in fighting off infections. So, it’s best not to take fever-reducing medications unless you’re uncomfortable and your fever is over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

To treat a COVID-19 fever, use the recommended dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can also take acetaminophen if you’re experiencing pain for another reason.

For a cough or sore throat

It can be exhausting to have a cough or sore throat. It doesn’t matter if it’s because of COVID-19, the flu, a cold or something else. To treat your cough, you can try using an over-the-counter cough medicine – they work for some people.

  • For wet coughs: Look for an expectorant like Mucinex to help get the mucus out.
  • For dry coughs: Look for a cough suppressant. Popular brands include Robitussin Cough, Triaminic Cough and Cold, and Vicks 44 Cough and Cold.

Try to limit the use of cough medicines to when you need to take a break from your cough. For a more natural option, consider using honey to soothe your sore throat.

Stuffy or runny nose

Mild COVID-19 can cause both stuffy and runny noses. When looking for something to reduce your symptoms, make sure to grab the right medicine.

  • For a stuffy nose: The most common medications for stuffy noses are pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine (Sudafed and Sudafed SE). These medications work by causing the swollen blood vessels in your nose to constrict. However, these medications can make it hard to sleep, so it’s best not to take them before bedtime or a nap.
  • For a runny nose: Take a Benadryl or another medication containing diphenhydramine which is a specific type of antihistamine. These medications block a chemical reaction in your body that can make the tissues in your nose swell and itch. The biggest downside of these medications is that they can make you drowsy.

6. Exercise your lungs

Exercising your lungs can help if you have mild COVID-19, but stop if they leave you short of breath. If you’re still struggling to breathe after resting, call 911.

Here are breathing exercises you can try:

Pursed lip breathing

This is a quick and easy breathing technique you can do anywhere. Here’s how to do it:

  • Take a breath in through your nose for two seconds.
  • Purse your lips as if you were going to whistle and then breathe out.
  • Repeat this technique several times during the day.

Diaphragmatic breathing

This is a great technique to try when you’re lying on your back. This is often called “belly breathing” because your stomach moves, and your chest does not. Here’s how it works:

  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your stomach below your ribs.
  • Slowly breathe in through your nose and push your breath down toward your stomach, causing your stomach to push up into your hand.
  • Before breathing out, tighten your abdominal muscles. As you exhale through pursed lips, let your stomach fall downward.
  • Keep breathing this way for about 5-10 minutes. Repeat a few times during the day.

Move around

Even though it may feel difficult to do so, getting out of bed and moving around can make a big difference. If you live alone and won’t risk spreading COVID-19 to others, take a few laps around the house. If you’re isolating in your room, you’ll likely have less space to roam, so make sure to find time for breathing exercises like the ones above.

7. Track your symptoms

While most COVID-19 is mild or moderate, it’s important to make sure your symptoms are getting better over time. Prompt treatment for worsening COVID-19 symptoms is very important. Here are things to consider:

Take your temperature

COVID-19 illness doesn’t always come with a fever. This is especially true with new variants. Still, taking your temperature two times a day can be a way to identify if your illness is getting worse – just make sure you wait at least six hours after taking Tylenol or another fever-reducing medication.

If your fever gets worse or you’re consistently running a high fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or more, contact your doctor.

Consider checking your blood oxygen level

Very rarely, people with COVID-19 can have hypoxemia or low levels of oxygen in their blood – even if their symptoms are mild or they have no symptoms at all. You may be more likely to have oxygen issues during COVID-19 if you have lung disease, heart disease, or if you’re overweight or smoke.

If you’re at higher risk or if your doctor recommends that you track your oxygen level, you may be instructed to use a pulse oximeter, a device that clips onto your finger and specifically keeps track of your oxygen levels. If your pulse oximeter reading is below 95%, call your doctor. If it’s less than 90%, you should call 911.

Be mindful about how you’re feeling

It’s also a good idea to take stock of your symptoms. Do you have new symptoms? Do you feel better or worse than yesterday? Is it harder to breathe?

COVID-19 symptoms can last for a couple of weeks. But if you’re feeling worse instead of better after a couple of days, give your doctor a call.

You’ll also want to be on the lookout for symptoms that start or come back after you get better. It’s possible to get long-haul COVID-19 symptoms even if you had a mild case.

8. Use supplements with caution

You may have heard that zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D can help to treat COVID-19 at home. But the truth is that we don’t yet know for sure if these supplements will really improve your symptoms.

What we do know is that zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D are generally safe to take as long as you follow the daily dietary allowances. Even if research is not yet clear about how vitamins play a role in fighting COVID-19, they can still help support the body in other ways – for example, vitamin D is important for strong bones, strengthening your immune system and reducing inflammation within your cells.

Still, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking vitamins or supplements, especially if you take medications or are under a doctor’s care for another medical condition.

When to see a doctor about COVID-19

If your COVID-19 symptoms stay mild, you probably don’t need to see a doctor. However, there are certain times when you should seek immediate medical attention or advice from your doctor.

Call 911 if:

  • You have severe shortness of breath
  • You have persistent pain or pressure in your chest
  • You’re having a hard time waking up or staying awake
  • You feel very confused, can’t stand or walk around
  • Your skin, lips or nail beds look pale, gray or blue
  • You have a blood oxygen level of less than 90%

Make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • Your fever isn’t going away
  • You’re not better in a week or two
  • You have a higher chance of getting severe COVID-19 – for example, if you’re unvaccinated, have a weakened immune system or are older
  • You’ve had severe diarrhea and have been vomiting a lot
  • You’ve had symptoms that last for weeks or months after your initial infection – it’s possible that you may have long COVID-19 syndrome

Let us know how we can help

We hope you’re better soon. But if not, we’re ready to help you feel like yourself again. If you have any questions about your symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. If you’re a HealthPartners or Park Nicollet patient or member, you can also call the CareLine at 612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859.