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Infectious Diseases

Updated 08 October 2020

Most Covid infections are mild - so what if you're infected? Some 'common-sense' tips for recovery

"Common-sense rules" are important to help you recover from Covid-19.

  • Recovering from Covid-19 can be similar to recovering from the flu.
  • However, it's important to monitor your progress and keep your doctor updated.
  • The coronavirus' impact on the heart is also a reminder to be careful about getting back into exercise.

There's no magic bullet for recovering from Covid-19. If you have a mild case and can recover at home, it's best to treat it like you would the flu.

Professor Christine Jenkins, a respiratory disease expert from UNSW Medicine, says you should apply "common-sense rules" to your recovery.

Here are some of them:

READ | 'Long Covid': Clinics could be our future as recovered patients struggle with after-effects

Rest, rest, rest

If you were not hospitalised and are recovering at home, the best thing you can do is make your bed super comfortable and ride it out with your favourite TV shows, as advised by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Don't overexert yourself, sleep lots, with no late nights or early mornings and be kind to yourself. Mental rest is as important as physical rest.

Stay hydrated

As with any disease, you can become dehydrated quickly and it's important to maintain your fluid intake. Water is your best friend in this case, and make sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can dehydrate you.

Eat the right foods

Just like when recovering from the flu, there are some foods that can help speed up the process while still providing comfort.

There's a reason soup is such a classic "sick" food as it helps you to rehydrate, is easy to digest and usually packed with nutrients. Chicken soup can even help reduce inflammation.

Also stock up on foods high in vitamin C and other nutrients, including garlic, ginger, leafy greens, yoghurt and bananas. Try to keep it bland for a while to avoid post-infection nausea, especially if you're still waiting for your sense of taste and smell to return.

Foods to avoid include dairy, rough textures for sensitive throats and greasy junk food.

READ MORE | Most survivors of severe Covid-19 report symptoms many weeks after 'recovery', study shows

Keep your doctor updated on your progress

Sticking to your doctor's recovery advice is important, but it's also important to keep them updated on your progress. They will be able to spot any signs that you're getting worse and need hospitalisation.

You can do this via online chat or email, and it also helps give you peace of mind if the doctor says your recovery is on track. Also go for a check-up a month after recovery to check for any long-term effects of the disease.

If you've been on a ventilator

Respiratory rehabilitation is very important if you're recovering from being on a ventilator, which includes breathing exercises and limited exercise. Ventilators can cause loss of muscle mass, which in turn can hamper breathing.

A French study found that the sooner discharged Covid-19 patients started a pulmonary rehabilitation programme, the better and faster their recovery was.

Also stay far away from smoking – even if you haven't been on a ventilator – as smoking can drastically increase recovery time.

READ | Why check-ups for Covid-19 recoveries are important

Check your mental health

Catching any disease can be stressful, but catching a disease that has the world in a grip of fear can place serious strain on your mental health.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, it's important not to blame yourself for your diagnosis and to reach out to your support systems – like friends and family (physically distanced, of course). Set up a schedule for online chats with loved ones so that you have something to look forward to during recovery.

Also focus on activities that relax you, like stretching, meditation, reading and so on, as good mental health can help speed up physical recovery. If things get really bad, reach out to a professional for help.

Remember your isolation is only temporary and you'll soon be able to return to the outside world.

Wait before you start exercise

Getting back into exercise after Covid-19 isn't as easy as with other diseases. According to local sports physician Dr Etti Barsky, the virus tends to attack the heart more than other viral infections, even if you have a mild case.

She recommends the following for rigorous exercise:

  • Asymptomatic: wait two weeks before resuming exercise.
  • Mild symptoms: wait for all symptoms to clear, then rest for two weeks before you try a workout.
  • Severe symptoms/hospitalised without heart issues: wait for all symptoms to clear, rest for two weeks then get evaluated by your doctor.
  • Severe symptoms/hospitalised with heart issues: evaluation and clearance from a cardiologist once the two-week rest period has been completed.

It is a good idea to start with walks around the block at relaxed speeds after recovery – but listen to your body. 

READ MORE | What Covid-19 is doing to the heart, even after recovery

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