The Best Things to Take if You Get COVID
If you've come down with COVID this month, you're far from alone: On Monday, the U.S. reported nearly 1.5 million new cases. You're likely wondering what you can take—or should take—to feel better and recover faster. Will Gatorade and chicken soup get you through? Are certain over-the-counter remedies better for COVID than others? What about monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs—do you need them, and can you get them? Answers, like the virus, are in flux.
To get the latest advice, ETNT Health talked with Robert G. Lahita, MD, Ph.D. ("Dr. Bob"), director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at Saint Joseph Health in New Jersey and author of Immunity Strong, and Amanda Perriello, RD, CDN, a registered dietician with Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Connecticut who provides care to people recovering from severe COVID. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Hydration is key when recovering from any illness. But COVID can complicate that a bit. People who contract the Omicron variant—which now accounts for 98% or more of cases in the U.S.—commonly have a very sore throat. "Patients say it can feel like swallowing razor blades," says Lahita. "But make sure you're hydrated. We tend not to eat or drink when our throats are raw." He suggests drinking plenty of water, tea, or other beverages that are gentle on the throat. Citrus juices, coffee, and spicy or very hot liquids will probably be too painful for a while.
Water is the best hydration source, but when you have a fever, you should also make sure you're replenishing your electrolytes, says Perriello. Drinks like Gatorade, Powerade or Vitamin Water will work, or you can make your own homemade version of a rehydration beverage with water, salt, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon for flavor. (If you're diabetic, be wary of consuming sports drinks that contain added sugar; spiking your blood sugar can worsen your bout with COVID.)
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Lahita recommends acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) for fever and headache. Aspirin and NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen can irritate the stomach and might worsen COVID-related nausea or vomiting. One caveat: Don't drink alcohol when you're taking acetaminophen; that can cause serious liver damage.
Even if you don't have COVID, "taking a baby aspirin every day is a must," says Lahita. That can protect against potential effects of the Delta variant, which is still circulating. Unlike Omicron, Delta can cause micro-clotting in the lungs, one of the most common causes of death from that variant, he says. Baby aspirin, which acts as a blood thinner, can prevent that.
Vitamins C and D
"If you haven't started, everybody should be on vitamin C at the present time," says Lahita. "And vitamin D is a good vitamin to take, because it strengthens the immune system."
Regular Meals With These Components
You might not feel like eating, but you really need to. "To recover from any injury or illness, including COVID, you have to make sure that you're replenishing your body with calories, protein, and complex carbohydrates," says Perriello. "Protein, vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc and iron are all main players when it comes to immune health." Your best bets: Lean meats, seafood, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
If COVID has zapped your taste for food, it's still important to maintain an eating routine. In addition to helping fight off the virus, fueling your body consistently can help restore your appetite, says Perriello. While you're recovering, smaller meals and regular snacks might be more palatable than large portions.
What About Monoclonal Antibodies?
Monoclonal antibodies help rally the immune system to fight off the coronavirus. The treatment is administered by IV in hospitals and ERs, says Lahita. (It's not something your primary care doctor can give you in their office.) Unfortunately, most of the current monoclonal antibody treatments seem to be less effective against the Omicron variant. Fortunately, Omicron seems to cause less severe illness, making treatment less necessary.
But if and when you get COVID, you probably won't know what variant you have. Lahita's advice: If you have risk factors for severe COVID (such as age or underlying medical conditions), go to the ER, where you can be evaluated and monoclonal antibodies can be administered if a doctor determines you could benefit.
What's the Latest on Antiviral Medications?
In a few weeks, doctors will be able to readily prescribe the antiviral drugs Paxlovid and molnupiravir, says Lahita. In clinical trials, they have been found to significantly reduce COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths when taken in the first three days of symptoms. The medications are being produced right now and are in very limited supply.
So what should you do today, if you think you might need more than at-home, over-the-counter care? "The best advice is, always, call your doctor," says Lahita. "Talk to your doctor or the doctor's representative—the advanced practice nurse or covering physician—and tell him or her your symptoms." They'll give you customized and current advice on what to do next.
When to Seek Medical Attention
"If your symptoms get really bad, and you have a comorbidity like diabetes or a chronic pulmonary condition, and you think you're beginning to deteriorate, go to the emergency room," says Lahita. "If you're short of breath and gasping for air, dial 911 and get to the hospital." There, doctors can administer medications like remdesivir and dexamethasone to decrease inflammation and improve breathing.
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
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