COVID-19 Treatment and Recovery

Learn about COVID-19 medications, supportive care and recovering from illness.

Treating COVID-19

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

Many individuals, including those who live with chronic lung disease, are at  high risk for severe illness if they get sick with COVID-19. The FDA has issued emergency use authorization (EUAs) for certain medications that your healthcare provider may prescribe. Depending on your situation, you may receive one of these treatments:

  • Monoclonal antibody treatment, 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.
    • Sotrovimab is an example of this treatment
  • Antiviral medications can also help your immune system fight of the coronavirus infection, with a goal of preventing you from becoming more seriously ill. There is a narrow window, typically five days from when you begin feeling ill, to begin this treatment so speak with your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you test positive for COVID-19.
    • Paxlovid, Remdesivir and Molnupiravir are examples of this treatment

Treatments for COVID-19 are constantly evolving. The National Institutes of Health regularly updates current treatment guidelines to help guide healthcare providers in treating their patients who test positive for COVID-19.

You could be hospitalized for COVID-19 for several reasons including difficulty breathing, and your symptoms will determine your care once you arrive. Hospital staff will monitor your vital signs to make sure you are getting enough oxygen and may administer fluids so you stay hydrated. If your oxygen levels are low, you may be administered supplemental oxygen.

If your symptoms worsen, you may be transferred to an intensive care unit (ICU) for closer monitoring.

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
  • 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.
  • If you are high-risk for severe COVID-19 illness, review the Seek Treatment Options Now section above.
  • Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze 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.

Early in the pandemic, when individuals become sick with COVID-19 there was a wait-and-see if this progresses to severe illness approach. The availability of monoclonal antibodies changed that. If taken promptly, within 10 days of onset of symptoms, this treatment can help prevent severe symptoms from developing and help prevent hospitalization.

Monoclonal antibodies are similar to what your body makes naturally and give your immune system a boost to respond quickly and effectively to the viral infection.

You may be eligible to receive monoclonal antibody therapy if you are:

  • At high-risk for developing COVID-19,
  • Tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms that have not required hospitalization, and
  • Are at least 12 years old

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 or injection in a specialized clinic. Patients should coordinate care with their healthcare provider before reaching out to a distribution location.

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. 

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.

How Antivirals Treat Respiratory Viruses

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Antiviral treatment can boost your immune system if taken promptly at the onset of symptoms of some infectious respiratory diseases. Learn more about when to contact your healthcare provider how this treatment can help you feel better faster.

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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.  

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

  • COVID Pneumonia, a viral infection that generally occurs in both lungs and can be life threatening. As the lungs are infected and inflamed the air sacs fill with fluid, oxygen exchange becomes more challenging and results in breathing difficulties. 
  • 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.
  • Long COVID, new or persistent symptoms occurring at least four weeks after initial infection. Join our Living with Long COVID online support community.

Share Your COVID-19 Story

Have you or a loved one had COVID-19? Please share how you’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Call the Lung HelpLine

Our Lung HelpLine is answering questions about COVID-19. Contact our Lung HelpLine by calling 1-800-LUNGUSA or submitting a question online.
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Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: January 24, 2022

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