A leading-edge research firm focused on digital transformation.
When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
By now we know that wearing masks, washing our hands, and keeping a safe social distance from others helps stop the spread of COVID-19. But what we haven’t heard a lot about is how to relieve the symptoms that are just bad enough to knock you on your butt but not send you to the hospital.
Viruses can be notoriously hard to treat and serious symptoms should prompt you to call your doctor right away. But milder cases of COVID-19 can, and should, be managed at home with both over-the-counter and home remedies to save doctor and hospital resources and minimize exposure risk.
Considering we’re again knee-deep in infections, it’s a smart idea to stock up on the items below now so you have them on hand in case you or someone in your household gets sick.
It’s important to distinguish more mild and common symptoms from emergency symptoms. You only want to use the treatments here for non-life-threatening cases and not as a replacement for emergency help.
According to the CDC, difficulty breathing or any severe symptoms such as persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and bluish lips or face, are classified as serious.
In these cases, head directly to the emergency room, or call 911.
The CDC outlines the most common symptoms of COVID-19, which include:
Dr. Jabraan Pasha, MD, an internal medicine physician in Oklahoma told Insider that COVID-19 may feel very much like a cold or the flu. “The duration can vary from just a couple of days to two weeks or longer. Most individuals’ symptoms last less than one week,” he said.
Note: Even if your symptoms go away quickly, the CDC advises you to avoid contact with other people for at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared.
He cautioned against patients starting new medication, even over-the-counter (OTC) choices, without first talking to their doctors. Also, don’t confuse these symptom-relief products with an actual cure.
“When taking OTC meds for COVID, the focus should be on symptom control,” Dr. Pasha added. “There’s been no OTC med proven to shorten the length of the disease.”
For those trudging through their first or fourteenth day with milder symptoms, we talked to doctors and nurses, all of whom treat COVID-19 patients, to ensure people taking care of themselves at home get the best possible relief via home remedies or over-the-counter choices.
Helps with: Sore throat, cough
If your mom ever served you warm tea with honey when you were sick, she was on the right track. Austin-based, Sarah Talbot, a registered nurse and physician’s assistant with FetchMD, has been helping to treat COVID-19 patients through telemedicine. She told Insider that warm tea with honey, as well as throat lozenges, can help to soothe a sore throat or cough.
An easy, at-home approach is to combine lemon juice and honey in hot water. But if you want more flavor, try Harney & Sons Organic Peppermint Tea with honey stirred in.
While there isn’t any evidence that honey can help fight the COVID-19 virus, research does show honey boosts healing in general through antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, among others, reports a 2018 study in Molecules. Research also shows it’s potentially more effective at reducing coughing in children than a lot of other remedies, including OTC cough suppressants.
As for the tea, scientists have found peppermint teas and oils may contain illness-fighting effects. The menthol in the plant, among others, has excellent antibacterial properties, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Oleo Science. Other herbs, oils, and teas are also being studied, with some mixed results, including elderberry, chamomile, and more.
Other peppermint teas work but we like Harney & Sons as the tea is made from 100% Oregon-grown peppermint leaves.
Helps with: Congestion, cough, body aches, sore throat
“It is completely reasonable to try over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to help manage symptoms,” said Dr. Pasha. Dayquil is a popular option for treating multiple cold, flu, and virus symptoms when you have more than just a fever and aches.
For starters, medications that contain decongestants can be helpful for runny and stuffed-up noses and sinuses, Dr. Pasha said. Dayquil also helps temporarily relieve coughs, body aches, headaches, and a sore throat, so it’s a simple solution to knocking out multiple symptoms at once, too.
For what it’s worth, Dayquil seems to also help alleviate the lack of taste and smell associated with the and flu, since that odd and telltale symptom comes from congestion, Dr. Ashley Lee, DPM, a foot and ankle reconstructive surgeon by trade who has been working in lab operations of a COVID-19 testing center near Chicago, told Insider.
However, it probably won’t have that effect with COVID-19, since some of that lack of taste in smell, in that case, is neurological, say both Dr. Lee and our medical reviewer, Dr. Jason R. McKnight, MD, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
There are some people who shouldn’t take Dayquil, Dr. Pasha said, like those who don’t have congestion, aches, and a fever. Avoid the medication if you have certain other complicating factors or conditions, such as anyone with , for example, since included ingredients pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can increase blood pressure, he explained.
“It’s important for those who have hypertension to discuss the risk-benefit of these medications with their doctors and consider monitoring their blood pressures while taking them.”
Helps with: Body aches, headache, fever, inflammation
Colds, the flu, and definitely COVID-19 make you feel, well, terrible all over. If the main symptom you are trying to relieve is fever and/or body aches, Dr. Pasha says it’s fine to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), better known as over-the-counter pain killers like aspirin and ibuprofen.
(The exception: People with cardiovascular disease or certain gastrointestinal disorders should not take NSAIDs except under direction from their doctor, said Dr. McKnight.)
While early in the pandemic there were claims that NSAIDs might aggravate or worsen COVID-19 symptoms, that’s since been disproven, Dr. Lee says. In fact, researchers are now exploring whether NSAIDs, such as aspirin, can help reducing blood clots in COVID-19 patients. A September study in PLOS Medicine confirms there was no association between NSAIDs and extreme outcomes, like ICU admission, ventilation, or death.
While all OTC pain killers help with common coronavirus symptoms like body aches and fever, NSAIDs are ideal to start with since they also lower inflammation. For regular Advil, take 1-2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours while you have symptoms. Don’t exceed 6 tablets in 24 hours unless directed by a doctor. If your pain or fever gets worse or lasts more than 3 days, talk to your doctor.
If you need more pain relief, it’s safe to alternate Advil and Tylenol since the latter is not an NSAID, so it works through a different mechanism in your body. Follow the dosage recommendations for both medications, as well as your doctor’s advice.
Helps with: Dehydration
It sure isn’t glamorous or exciting but some of the most classic illness advice is still going strong during the pandemic: Rest and stay hydrated. Dr. Lee recommended Pedialyte for hydration, saying it has a lot of electrolytes, which are essential for hydration.
This is especially important if you’re losing fluid quickly or often due to vomiting, diarrhea, or a high fever, which dehydrates you.
Pedialyte’s nutrition label boasts half the sugar content of leading sports drinks, making it an overall healthier option for your recovery process. How much to drink depends on how dehydrated you are but the brand says it’s safe (and sometimes necessary) to drink up to 2 liters (64 fluid ounces) per day.
If you are having trouble keeping liquids down, try the freezer pops (and good luck keeping them away from your kids).
Another polarizing recommendation was the impact of a daily multivitamin. Talbot says she likes to ensure her patients take them, or even individual doses of specific vitamins, as they recover from COVID-19, stating that, “it may be helpful to boost your immune system by loading up on vitamins, though you don’t want to exceed the recommended daily dose on these either.”
However, each expert made sure to stress that vitamins are not a cure for the virus. A recent paper in the Annals of Intensive Care did report that good immune support is “the major weapon” against COVID-19 and that sufficient vitamin levels, particularly vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, and E, are important in an optimal immune system. This is why Emergen-C, which delivers a hefty (but still safe) dose of , C, zinc, and a host of other vitamins such as B12 and B6, can be a consideration.
Dr. McKnight added that taking too many of certain supplements like vitamin D can be dangerous and may interact with other medications. He pointed out that he doesn’t want it to be suggested that vitamins or products like Emergen-C are able to improve COVID-19 symptoms or outcomes since we don’t have any data to support that idea.
He did concede that “if individuals want to take a product such as this to help boost their immune health and overall nutritional status, then I think that is reasonable and okay.”
Dr. Lee, meanwhile, said Emergen-C is a medication you can take safely “without worrying about taking too much.” The amount of the various vitamins included in the powder isn’t alarmingly high (1,000 mg of vitamin C, 1,000 IU of vitamin D3, and 10 mg of ) and isn’t enough to put most people over the safe intake threshold of any of them, particularly for short-term use.
We recommend consulting with your doctor first before taking any new medication or supplement.
During research for this article, two of our experts, Sarah Talbot and Dr. Ashley Lee, both said they recommend Emergen-C with Vitamin D & Zinc to their patients, citing some studies that have shown people who have deficient vitamin D levels being more susceptible to COVID, especially minority populations.
And while recent study reviews recognize that boosting vitamin D levels in those who are deficient like the elderly may help lower the risk of contracting the virus, other research says you shouldn’t take it if you already have the virus: Researchers at the University of Arizona have warned that certain supplements, including vitamin D, can cause your immune system to become very active, which, if you have COVID-19, might stimulate an inflammatory response.
The other ingredients and herbs the doctors and scientists at UArizona say to stay away from if you have COVID-19 are elderberries, polysaccharide extracts from medicinal mushrooms, echinacea Angustifolia and E. purpurea, and Larch arabinogalactan. Some of these are commonly found in all-natural or holistic medicine, so be sure to read the label thoroughly.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.