How to cope with your COVID-19 symptoms
During and after your Covid experience, you may have some of the following physical symptoms –
Breathlessness, fatigue, cough, body aches, loss of taste and smell, sore throat, changes to your voice, headaches and fever.
This page will offer some information and helpful techniques to manage some of your symptoms. Symptoms of Coronavirus are different for each person, so some of the techniques shown here may not help you. Please use the ones that apply to you.
What does it look like?
- Shortness of breath when walking up and down stairs.
- Finding it difficult to go for a walk, and keep having to stop to “catch” your breath.
- You may feel like you have tightness/ heavy feeling in your chest.
It is important to remember:
- We all get breathless with exercise that is challenging.
- Shortness of breath with exercise is normal.
How to manage your breathlessness
- Pause and plan your activities, try not to rush or do things rapidly.
- Choose the best time of day to do certain activities.
- Break individual tasks down into smaller ones.
- Spread activities throughout the day or week.
- Take rests before, during and after completing a task, frequent short rest periods are better than a few long ones.
- Do not overestimate what you can do.
- Do not stop doing the things that make you feel breathless.
Techniques to help control your breathing
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy.
- Slowly breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- If you are relaxed, the air will reach low into your lungs and your tummy will move out against your hand.
- When you breathe out, your tummy will fall gently.
Breathing rectangle technique
- This should be done in a seated, upright and comfortable position, resting your hand on your lap.
- Look around for a rectangle e.g a door, a window, picture or book.
- Now follow the sides of the rectangle with your eyes as you breathe the following the diagram
- 1, 2 breath in
- 1, 2, 3 breath out
What can you do when you go breathless?
Choose a position to reduce breathlessness.
- Try and support your arms rather than grip or tense them.
- Try to stay calm, drop your shoulders and try to use the breathing techniques.
- When walking, sometimes putting your hands in your pockets, tucking your thumbs into your belt loop or resting your hands on your handbag can help keep your shoulders from tensing and rising up.
Sometimes fatigue can be felt in a way that does not seem normal. Fatigue is more than just tiredness. Despite resting and a good night’s sleep, fatigue occurs after minimal effort, is prolonged and limits your usual activity.
What causes Covid fatigue?
- A continued response to the Covid virus even though the infection has got better.
- The effect of a serious illness.
What can you do about fatigue?
- Recognise that the fatigue is real and be kind to yourself
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Plan – an activity diary can help you. Think about trying to organise your home so that things are where you need them.
- Prioritise – decide which activities are most important to you.
- Delegate– think about areas where you can save energy, for example, online shopping rather than a trip to the supermarket.
- Keep active – energy levels are also helped by staying active.
- Eat well.
Why do you still cough?
Over time a cough can develop into a cycle where excessive coughing causes irritation and inflammation which worsens the cough. A problematic cough can also make you breathe through your mouth, which means that lots of dry, fast-flowing air enters the lungs, affecting the delicate airway membranes and causing further coughing.
How can you control your cough?
- Practice a “normal” breathing pattern ( tummy breathing- feeling the tummy rise and fall as you breathe in and out )
- Close your mouth and swallow
- Gently breathe in and out through your nose
- Sip drinks regularly
- Suck boiled sweets or lozenges.
Keep your chest clear
- Positioning – try and keep upright as much as possible.
- If you have been advised by a physiotherapist to use other positions, then try them, for example, proning.
- Taking prescribed medications or antibiotics and or steroids
- Keep well hydrated
- Steam inhalation
- Exercise and keep active
MUSCULOSKELETAL, SHOULDER, NECK AND BACK PAIN
The most common problems after being unwell with Covid are shoulder and back problems. These effects can be due to prolonged periods in the same position when in hospital. Some people have widespread aching that can come and go for a time as you recover.
Some people also have odd or altered feelings such as numbness or pins and needles and weakness in the arms or legs.
What can you do about joint or muscle problems?
- Regularly applying heat
- Light stretching
- Light strengthening exercises
- Visit your nearest physiotherapist
How do you return to your usual activities?
- Try to gradually increase the amount of movement and activity you do.
- You need to pace yourself and rest when you need to.
- Also take into account any other symptoms you may have, such as fatigue and breathing problems.
Is it safe to exercise after Covid?
Aim for a balance between exercise/ activity and rest. At first, you may have to rest more frequently. You should gradually increase the amount of the following:
- General physical activity for example washing and dressing yourself, housework, gardening, hobbies and work. Aim to gradually return to your usual activities and then slowly introducing the more physical ones.
- Exercise: strengthening and flexibility exercises will help your joint and muscle problems.
- Strengthening excises are any activities that make your muscles work harder than usual.
MANAGING YOUR OXYGEN
Many people treated with oxygen whilst in hospital are discharged home without oxygen. Some will continue to require additional oxygen when they go home to support their lungs and their heart.
The amount (flow rate ) and the number of hours each day will be set up specifically for you. It is important that you do not change these settings on the equipment yourself.
Some things you should remember
- Oxygen will make things burn more easily, therefore nobody should smoke near oxygen
- Oxygen should not be used near any kind of open flames
- Be careful not to trip over the oxygen tubing
- If your nose or lips become dry or sore, please use only water-based products
Will the oxygen make you feel less breathless?
- Generally, oxygen is not a very effective treatment for breathlessness
- Being breathless does not necessarily mean that you require oxygen as there are often several reasons for this, including something called “deconditioning”
What if your oxygen level falls at home?
If you have your own oxygen monitoring device at home (a pulse oximeter), you can monitor your oxygen levels or oxygen saturation at home.
Normal pulse oximetry values from 95 – 100 %
When you were discharged from hospital, you may have been advised of your “target “ oxygen saturation. This is usually given as a range i.e. 88 – 92 % and is based on information about your breathing while you were in hospital.
If your oxygen saturations are above or below your target saturations you should contact your doctor.
You should also contact your doctor when you:
- Feel shorter of breath
- Have a headache, particularly in the morning
- You feel unusually restless
- You experience dizziness
- Your breathing is more rapid
- You feel confused or you are finding it hard to concentrate
How will you know when to stop using your oxygen?
You should receive a follow-up appointment approximately 6 -12 weeks after you are discharged to check if you need to continue with oxygen.
- Be kind to yourself. Ask for help.
- You should expect to have some days that are better than, or worse than others.
- Do not compare today‘s results to that of yesterday, or to how you were prior to your illness, or to other people.
- Try wiping a cool wet flannel on your nose and upper cheeks of your face as cooling the face especially around the nose can often help reduce the feeling of breathlessness.
- Using a fan is not recommended during the Covid outbreak due to the risk of spreading infection.
- Stay hydrated – drink lots of water.
- Limit the amount of time you stay in one position. If you find your symptoms are worse in a certain position, find a comfortable position or move around a while.
- NHS, Your Covid Recovery, 2020 NHS England, www.yourcovidrecovery.nhs.uk
- Guy’s and St Thomas’, NHS Foundation Trust, Recovery after coronavirus (COVID 19), NHS Foundation Trust, June 2020
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- Pro Physio Logo: Proprietary logo of Pro Physio used with permission of Innis Erasmus Pro Physio Practice Owner
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- Diagram: NHS, Your Covid Recovery, 2020 NHS England,
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- Lying Diagram: Google Images, www.onemedical.com
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