For the majority of people, Covid-19 is a mild illness that can be managed at home. Most people feel better within days or weeks. This leaflet provides information and advice on how you can look after yourself and the people you care about during this time. If you have symptoms that have lasted longer than a few weeks, speak to your GP surgery as you may have long-covid.

About the symptoms of Covid-19

The symptoms of Covid-19 vary from person to person and often feel similar to colds or the flu. However, there are three key symptoms to look out for:

  1. a high temperature (fever)
  2. a new, continuous cough
  3. a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

What to do if you have symptoms

If you have any of the main symptoms of Covid-19, even if they are mild you should take a PCR test as soon as possible and stay at home (self-isolate) until you have received the results. If you have tested positive please follow the latest NHS guidance as this is subject to change When to self-isolate and what to do.

If you are feeling unwell, here are some useful tips on treating your symptoms.

To treat a high temperature

  • get as much rest as you need
  • drink plenty of fluids (water is best) – your pee should be light yellow and clear
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you feel uncomfortable

To treat a cough

  • avoid lying on your back if possible – lie on your side or sit upright instead
  • try having a teaspoon of honey, it is great in a hot drink – but do not give honey to babies under 12 months
  • if this does not help, ask a pharmacist for advice

To treat breathlessness

  • keeping your room cool can help, you could turn the heating down or open a window – do not use a fan as it may spread the virus
  • breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • sit upright in a chair and relax your shoulders
  • lean forward slightly – support yourself by putting your hands on your knees or on something stable like a chair
  • try to keep calm – worrying can make it feel worse
  • use a pulse oximeter, if you have one, to check your oxygen levels – there is more information on this in the next section.

For more information on treating Covid-19 at home including a helpful video on treating breathlessness and translated resources, visit the NHS website Covid-19 pages.

Using a pulse oximeter to check your oxygen level

What is a pulse oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a battery powered device that clips on your finger to check the level of oxygen in your blood. It can tell you if your oxygen levels are low or falling before you feel breathless or have any other symptoms, so you can get help quickly if needed.

How do I get a pulse oximeter?

Pulse oximeters are available to buy online or from your local pharmacist. They are usually not expensive. Make sure the one you buy has a CE mark, UKCA mark or CE UKNI mark. This means that the device will work properly and is safe if used correctly.

You may also be asked by a GP or healthcare professional to monitor your oxygen levels if you’re at a high risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19. In these cases your GP or healthcare professional will provide with you further information.

It is a good idea to buy a pulse oximeter to keep in your house before anyone falls ill.

How do I use a pulse oximeter?

To use the pulse oximeter, clip it to your middle or index finger. After about a minute, make a note of the breathing, heart rate and oxygen readings. Repeat this three times per day. You can use this diary [link] to make a note of your recording.

The diary also contains more information to help you use the oximeter. You may find it useful to watch this NHS video on YouTube. If you still feel stuck, you can ask your pharmacist to explain the process.

What does my oxygen level mean?

Low or falling levels of oxygen in your blood can be a sign your symptoms are serious or becoming more serious. Your oxygen level should normally be 95 or more, though it can be lower in some people. Pulse oximeters may also not work as well in people with darker skin tones. The most important thing is to get help if your oxygen levels begin to drop below your normal level. The following table helps you to know what action to take.

Blood oxygen level What to do
95 to100 Stay at home and continue to check your blood oxygen level regularly
93 or 94 Check your blood oxygen level again within an hour – if it’s still 93 or 94, call 111 or your GP surgery for advice
92 or below Check your blood oxygen level again straight away – if it’s still 92 or below, go to A&E immediately or call 999

If you need to get help, tell the person you speak to what your blood oxygen level is. If you can, show them your pulse oximetry diary.

For more information on using a pulse oximeter, including information for people with brown or black skin, visit the NHS website Covid-19 pages.

Taking action

There are certain symptoms that require action, even if you do not know your oxygen levels.

Get advice from NHS 111 or your GP surgery if you:

  • are gradually becoming more unwell or breathless
  • have difficulty breathing when you stand up or move around
  • feel very weak, achy or tired
  • are shaking or shivering
  • have lost your appetite
  • are unable to care for yourself – for example, washing, dressing or making food

Go to A&E or call 999 immediately if you:

  • become so breathless that you’re unable to say short sentences when resting
  • notice your breathing has suddenly become worse
  • cough up blood
  • feel cold and sweaty, with pale or blotchy skin
  • have a rash that looks like small bruises or bleeding under the skin and does not fade when you roll a glass over it
  • collapse or faint
  • feel agitated, confused or very drowsy
  • have stopped peeing or are peeing much less than usual

If you are pregnant or have recently given birth:

Contact your midwife or maternity team if you are worried about your health or your baby or have questions about the need to self-isolate. You can also call your GP surgery or 111 if needed.

Please take immediate action if you:

  • notice a change to your baby’s usual pattern of movements
  • have any bleeding from your vagina
  • are feeling very anxious or worried
  • have a headache that does not go away
  • cannot cope with your Covid-19 symptoms at home
  • have a high temperature (37.3ºC or above)
  • feel unsafe at any time

Further information and support

You may feel very worried to be diagnosed with Covid-19. This is understandable. Try to remember, though, that most people recover fully at home by following the advice in this leaflet. More detailed advice is also available on the NHS website.

Local information is also available through Local Authority websites.

Support is also available to help you self-isolate. NHS Volunteer Responders can help with shopping, collecting medicines or other small errands. Call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm, everyday) to arrange help.