So you, like more than 300,000 people in NSW since Christmas, have tested positive for Covid. Or maybe you haven’t been able to secure a test but you suspect you had Covid. Now what?
Australia is swiftly climbing the dubious ranks of having one of the highest percentages of Covid cases to population in the world. We’re seeing a massive surge of cases—and thanks to the wind-down of PCR testing and the unmitigated disaster that is the rapid antigen test (RAT) availability, it’s likely that official numbers are under represented.
Most people are able to manage Covid at home, according to NSW Health. If this is you, here’s a few science-backed tips to looking after yourself during this time. And if
1. Isolate as soon as possible
You already know this, but it bears repeating: isolate as soon as you have symptoms, which are likely to show up before you test positive to a RAT. If you live alone, this is relatively simple. If you don’t, it can be more complicated.
Experts advise isolating yourself as much as possible (staying in your room, using a different bathroom if available, having household members drop food off at your closed door, etc), but the reality might be more complicated, especially if you have children.
2. Determine if you need more immediate medical treatment, like hospital
Most people will be able to manage Covid at home, according to NSW Health. For anyone who is under 65 years old, has had at least two doses of a Covid vaccine, doesn’t suffer from any chronic health conditions and is not pregnant, a hospital stay is unlikely.
However, if you develop severe symptoms—particularly severe headache or dizziness, shortness of breathe, or chest pressure or pain—then call 000 immediately.
Chronic health conditions include obesity, diabetes, severe and/or complex medical conditions (such as cardiac or respiratory issues), severe mental illness, or anyone who is immunocompromised (such as people undergoing chemotherapy or having had a transplant). If this applies to you, or if you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor or the call your state’s Covid support hotline to determine treatment.
The Healthdirect website also suggests asking yourself these four questions three times a day, and if the answer is ‘no’, to call your GP.
- Can I get my own food?
- Can I drink?
- Can I go to the toilet normally?
- Can I take my regular medication?
3. Monitor your oxygen levels
Health experts recommend buying and keeping a pulse oximeter to check your blood oxygen levels. Your oxygen level should be 95% or higher. If it’s any lower, then contact your GP or a nurse. If it’s lower than 92%, call 000.
It’s not advised that you rely on a smart watch to monitor oxygen.
4. Drink water, not alcohol
As tempting as it might be, riding through Covid with a few drinks won’t be the best for your health. Instead, health experts recommend keeping up your water intake to avoid dehydration—drink enough so that your pee is light yellow and clear.
A high fever can cause you to sweat, which could lead to dehydration and loss of electrolytes. It can also lead to your blood becoming more viscous, Dr Andrew Keech, an exercise science practitioner with the University of New South Wales, told marie claire Australia.
“It’s thicker, like honey,” he said. “That will lead to less blood pumped out of the heart per beat, which leads to a higher heart rate to compensate to make sure an adequate amount of blood is getting around the body. We want blood flow to get oxygen to the vital organs and the working muscles and to clear inflammation from fighting the Covid virus. So less blood in our system leads to a chain reaction of events that ultimately leads to a higher heart rate and more perceived effort for any given tasks.”
If you’re struggling to keep water down due to vomiting, then try taking smaller sips to maintain hydration.
Health experts also recommend avoiding drinks with caffeine. Goodbye coffee (and tea, and soft drinks).
5. Eat a healthy diet, not sugar
It’s also tempting to give up on getting a range of nutrients and instead order a burger and fries to be delivered. It will come as no surprise to learn that health experts do not recommend this. Instead, do what you can to eat a range of fruit, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins.
If you’re nauseous or experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea, NSW Health recommends eating plain, low fibre foods (such as white rice, white bread and pasta), and having six smaller meals instead of three big meals.
6. Take paracetamol for a fever and throat lozenges for a sore throat
Sore throats and fevers are two of the most common symptoms of Covid-19, particularly with the Omicron variant. Luckily, there’s two readily available remedies you can use at home: paracetamol for fevers, and throat lozenges for a sore throat. NSW Health recommends regularly taking paracetamol and ibuprofen for fevers and aches during Covid.
7. Avoid lying on your back with a cough
Unfortunately, a cough is one of the more common symptoms of Covid, and one of the most likely to hang around. Avoid lying on your back by sleeping on your side, in order to help with breathing and in clearing any mucous from your lungs. You could also try breathing in steam using a humidifier, or taking a warm shower.
8. Avoid exercise. You need rest.
Exercising too soon—especially when you are very symptomatic, such as still having a fever—can definitely hamper recovery from acute respiratory infections like Covid, Keech said.
“Glycogen (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscles) is the main fuel for moderate-high intensity exercise but depleting your limited stores of glycogen can lead to increased stress hormones (cortisol) and immunosuppression,” he said.
“Similarly, heavy exercise will produce heat from the working muscles, which will add to the high body temperature from the covid-induced fever. Also, dehydration from the fever will only be exacerbated by sweat loss during hard exercise. Put simply, the long-duration moderate-intensity exercise (e.g., long jogs or bike rides) and the HIIT are simply harmful at this early stage.”
9. Be kind to yourself
Several women who have experienced Covid told marie claire Australia that allowing themselves to rest was one of the most important ways to practise self-care during this time.
“The biggest piece of advice is to be kind to yourself and try and take the downtime,” one woman said. “Even if you don’t feel ‘unwell’ your body is still fighting a virus. Give it some love.”
For additional support, call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080, or make an appointment with your GP. For severe symptoms, call 000 and tell them you have Covid.