You’ve had coronavirus, but that isn’t the end of the story. For some, symptoms can persist long after the 10-day isolation period has passed, with more details learned every week about the true impact of long Covid.
A recent study published in The Lancet suggested that three in four patients hospitalised for Covid are still struggling with symptoms six months on.
New research also suggests that hospital readmissions for coronavirus are high. In a new study by the Office for National Statistics, University College London and the University of Leicester, almost a third (29.4%) of people who were hospitalised for coronavirus were later readmitted to hospital.
While this study is yet to be peer reviewed, it can make for alarming reading for anyone who is slowly recovering from Covid-19, not least because a diagnosis can have a real impact on your mental health.
If you’ve felt panic, worry or anxiety in the weeks after a diagnosis, you’re not alone. So, what can you do to give your mind and body the best chance or recuperating?
Keep rested and hydrated
If some of your symptoms are persisting, take things slowly and get the basics right, says Dr Victoria Tzortziou Brown, a GP based in East London who’s Joint Honorary Secretary of the Royal College of GPs.
“Take rest, keep up fluids, and paracetamol or ibuprofen can help with a high temperature. A teaspoon of honey (for those aged over 12 months) and laying on your side or sitting upright and avoiding lying on your back can help with a cough,” she tells HuffPost UK. Getting enough sleep is crucial to recovery.
“If a patient is still having difficulty managing a cough they should contact their pharmacist, via the phone or an online system, for further treatment advice. Also, turning down the heating or opening a window may help if a patient is breathless.”
If you’re worried about oxygen levels in your blood, you might find it reassuring to track it with a pulse oximeter, which are sold in pharmacies and online. Read our guide to using them – which includes the latest research on the ways they can help, as well as information on their possible pitfalls.
Make sure you’re eating enough
Even after those initial symptoms have passed, you’re unlikely to feel your usual self right away. To get your strength back, it’s important to ensure you are eating enough to prevent unnecessary weight loss and replenish your body, says Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist based at the University of Sussex.
“Choose calories wisely so that you are eating foods of a high nutritional quality to recover essential vitamins and minerals,” she says. “Try to spread nutrition out across your day and choose small nourishing meals.”
Protein will be important, particularly for someone who has been bedridden for several days and may not be able to move around like normal during recovery.
“Protein at each meal will help to minimise lean muscle wasting. Aim for 25g per meal,” adds Dr Macciochi. “Make sure you are taking your vitamin D supplement daily.”
If you are only eating small amounts or are unable to eat all the recommended food groups, you may wish to consider taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. But speak to your doctor first if you’ve already been advised to take other medication or supplements.
Ease yourself back into things
Even as symptoms begin to subside, drinking lots of water will help. “Fluids avoid dehydration and help with lymphatic flow which is important for the immune system and also for the consistency of mucus in the nasal tract,” explains Dr Macciochi. Some report losing a taste for caffeine or alcohol after Covid-19. Even if that’s not you, it’s worth limiting your intake of both.
As you return to normal life, it will help to listen to your body and ease yourself back in. When you return to work, consider asking your boss for a two-hour lunch break, so you can rest during the day if you need to.
If you’re thinking about exercising again, try a low-impact workout first to see how it goes, before returning to anything more strenuous.
Be sure to look after your mental health – as well as your physical health. Having coronavirus can be scary, so be honest with your friends and family if it’s sparked health anxiety or further stress.
These tips on small ways to boost your wellbeing may help, or for further mental health support, there’s a list of helplines at the bottom of this article.
Know when to seek help
Crucially, if you think your symptoms are getting worse rather than better – even past the 10-day isolation period – you should contact your GP or call 111.
“In emergencies, patients should seek urgent medical help by calling 999, for example if you are struggling to breathe, have blue lips or a blue face, become confused or very drowsy or experience pain or pressure in your chest,” says Tzortziou Brown.
“Hospitalisation may be required if a patient’s oxygen levels are low, or if they develop any Covid complications which can present through a range of symptoms. So, if people start to deteriorate again during the recovery phase, they should contact their GP or call 111.”
Remember, be kind to yourself and be patient – and if you’re struggling, talk to someone.
Useful websites and helplines
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).