How will I recover if I’ve had coronavirus?
Health care professionals and researchers are learning a lot about COVID-19, how it affects people differently and how people are recovering from it.
But it’s already clear that it can be a serious illness for some people, especially if they live with long-term conditions, including lung conditions such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or bronchiectasis. Some people with coronavirus need to be admitted to hospital, and some will need to be treated in intensive care. If you developed serious illness, it may have featured pneumonia.
Clinicians think it’s likely that, like recovery from pneumonia, recovery from coronavirus will vary a lot from person to person and depend on their personal circumstances like their general health, age and how severe their illness caused by the virus was. And how someone recovers is likely to be different if they were treated in intensive care or elsewhere in hospital or at home.
The AUK and BLF Partnership has set up a hub to help people recovering from Covid with advice, support and the latest information as it develops. Read more on the post-COVID hub about recovering if you were looked after in hospital.
On this page:
- How long does it take to recover from coronavirus?
- What effects might I experience from coronavirus?
- How can I get help?
- What can I do to help my recovery from coronavirus?
- Further information
We do know that when any form of pneumonia is serious, it takes weeks or months to recover from. For most types of pneumonia, it’s impossible to say exactly how quickly you’ll recover. Our information about recovering from pneumonia gives an idea of what to expect.
At this stage, it’s even less clear how you will recover from COVID-19, but experts anticipate it could take some time and it’s likely you’ll recover gradually. It’s important to listen to your body and rest if you need to. We’re hearing from people who feel better, but then relapse and experience symptoms again, sometimes several times. If your symptoms do come back, let your GP practice know, so you can have any necessary checks.
Health care professionals anticipate it will be normal for people to have some post-COVID effects for weeks or months.
Read more about:
You may find:
- You struggle to breathe when you’re resting or when you’re active
- You can’t do the things you could do before you got ill
- You’re very tired (fatigued) and low on energy
- You lose your appetite and lose weight and you lose your sense of taste or smell
- You have problems sleeping
You may notice that you are forgetful, aren’t able to think clearly or you may struggle with everyday things that involve organising, planning and thinking through problems.
You may find that your mood is low and that you have symptoms of anxiety and depression.
It’s a good idea to talk to your nurse, GP or hospital specialist if you are experiencing post COVID side effects. They will be able to assess what care you need.
When should I call 999?
Call 999 if you’re struggling to breathe and:
- your chest feels tight or heavy
- you have pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
- you feel or are being sick
If you were looked after in hospital
When you are discharged from hospital, your specialist team will let you know if you need any follow-up and what and where that will be. Find out more on the post-COVID hub.
If you had coronavirus at home
If your breathlessness is slow to disappear, pneumonia guidelines suggest that if you’re over 50 or you smoke, your health care professional may want to arrange a follow-up appointment and to do a chest X-ray or other tests. This is to check that the infection has gone from your lungs. If you have breathlessness or cough that just doesn’t seem to be settling as you would expect, speak to your GP.
If you smoke, now is a good time to stop. You will see the benefits within 24 hours. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to protect yourself from viral infections. Find out how you can get support to stop. You’re around 3 times more likely to stop successfully if you use a combination of stop smoking treatment and specialist help.
If you have new or persistent symptoms it is crucial these symptoms are assessed. They might be part of your body’s response to coronavirus or might be due to something completely different. You might need tests or a different treatment. If you are losing weight, coughing up blood, getting chest pain or if any of your new or persistent symptoms are getting worse speak urgently to your GP, your specialist or phone 111 or use the 111 online service.
- What if I’m breathless?
- What if I need to clear my lungs?
- What if I can’t eat or drink easily?
- What if I get tired easily and run out of energy?
- What if I’m ready to be more active?
- What if I’m having trouble sleeping?
- What if I’m feeling down or low?
If you live with a lung condition you may already know how to cope when you feel short of breath. You may have learned techniques and positions to help you at pulmonary rehabilitation or from a respiratory physiotherapist. You can also have a look at our information on managing breathlessness. These breathing techniques and positions will also help you as you recover from COVID-19.
- Try using breathing control. This is a way to breathe gently, using least effort.
- There are other breathing techniques that can help you manage your breathlessness. These include paced breathing, for when you’re active.
- Find a position that helps you to control your breathing and in which you can relax.
Exercising your lungs may also help. You can do this by taking long slow deep breaths or blowing through a straw into a glass of water.
When should I call 999?
Call 999 if you suddenly become very breathless or have severe chest pain.
Deep breathing will help clear mucus from your lungs: breathe deeply 5 to 10 times and then cough or huff strongly a couple of times to move the mucus. Read more about how to clear mucus from your lungs. While this advice is for people with bronchiectasis, the same technique can be used by people with other lung conditions.
You could also try the active cycle of breathing techniques to help you clear your mucus.
It might help to breathe in steam to help loosen your mucus before you try to clear it. To do this, sit with your head over a bowl of hot – but not boiling water – with some menthol or eucalyptus oil in it. Place a towel over your head, close your eyes and breathe deeply.
To help repair and rebuild your body, which will need more energy after having COVID-19 infection, It’s important to eat well to help you recover. If eating normally is not possible for you, try having more nourishing liquids such as milk, smoothies, juice and soups. Read more about what you can do if you’ve lost weight or if you are overweight.
You might find that you’re getting breathless when you eat or drink, or that eating and drinking take effort and make you feel tired. To avoid feeling bloated, eat in a relaxed environment and sit upright. Read our tips for if you get out of breath when you eat.
If your mouth is dry, for example because you’ve been using oxygen therapy, try these ideas for managing a dry mouth.
If you have problems swallowing your food, talk to your health care professional. They can refer you to a speech and language therapist for a swallowing assessment.
Feeling very tired, called fatigue, is a normal response when your body is fighting a viral infection and afterwards, when it’s often called post-viral fatigue. You’re likely to feel fatigued for some time after you’ve had coronavirus. Give yourself time to recover. Don’t rush to do everything you did before becoming ill.
Rest is very important. Relaxation, breathing and meditation can all help. Get up and move around slowly and gently a few times each day. This will keep your body mobile and help with circulation. But keep your activity levels low. Both physical and thinking activities use energy. Try to do only a few in a day - including things like washing and dressing.
Pace yourself! Plan your day to make sure you have time to rest. Spread your tasks throughout the day – and throughout the week. Think what your top priorities are. Set yourself realistic goals. This will save your energy.
Take lots of rests before, during and after you do a task. Frequent short rest periods are better than a few long ones. Resting before you become tired or exhausted really works. Don’t fall into the ‘5 minutes more’ trap.
Find simple ways to cook, clean and do other chores. For example:
- Sit to do as much as you can.
- Use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around your home, and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things.
- Use a towelling robe after you’ve had a shower or bath. You’ll use less energy than drying off with a towel.
Remember to use your breathing techniques to help you:
- Pursed-lips breathing can be used at any time to help you control your breathing. Breathe in gently through your nose, then purse your lips as though you’re going to blow out a candle. Blow out slowly and gently with your lips in this pursed position.
- Blow-as-you go makes things easier, because you breathe in before you make the effort and breathe out while you’re making the effort.
- Paced breathing can help when you’re walking or going up stairs. You pace your steps to your breathing.
The Royal College of Occupational Therapists has more practical tips for saving energy if you’ve had COVID-19.
If you find your everyday activities too difficult, you can ask your health care professional for a referral to an occupational therapist.
As you begin to feel better, you can start to be a bit more active, but don’t push yourself too hard. Spending time in hospital or being ill at home with coronavirus can result in you losing a lot of muscle strength, particularly in your legs. This is usually mainly because you’ve been inactive.
You can help your body recover and build back your muscle strength by moving and being active. Aim to exercise little and often, doing a little more each time. As you slowly start to be more active, you may find you get more breathless. This is normal because you’ve been inactive for some time. But as you get more active, you can make your breathing muscles stronger, and all your muscles will start to use oxygen more efficiently and your breathlessness will decrease. Read more about how being active affects your breathing.
But if you get too breathless to speak, slow down until your breathing improves. Remember to pace yourself: try not to get so breathless that you have to stop immediately.
Speak to your doctor about getting referred to a respiratory physiotherapist or to post-COVID rehabilitation about how to exercise as you recover. You might have also been given some exercises to do if you were in hospital. Make sure you do these regularly.
If you are mostly in bed, you could carry out any bed exercises you were shown in hospital. For example, circling your ankles, lifting your legs up from the bed, punching your arms out from your body and bicep curls (bending your arms from the elbow in and out). To help your breathing, try to sit out of bed regularly if you can or, if you’re very fatigued, prop yourself up on pillows.
Then try getting out of bed and moving around for a few minutes each day, and gradually try to do a little more every day.
When you feel ready, you could also try:
Sit to stand exercise
- Use a high chair or stool. Sit forwards.
- Lean forward slightly, with your nose over your toes, and stand up slowly.
- Sit back down slowly, aiming for perfect control.
The slower you can do this exercise the better. Make sure you keep your feet on the floor at all times.
If you can’t stand up from the chair without using your arms, see if you can find a higher chair or surface. You can push with your arms to help at first if it’s still too hard.
Or try walking up a few stairs, taking each stair at a time. As your confidence grows try something a bit more challenging. Make a note of your progress. And if things don’t feel right, or you want more guidance, talk to your GP, nurse or physiotherapist.
As your symptoms improve and you have more energy, you can think how to increase your activity. But do talk to your GP or respiratory physiotherapist before you do, so they can check if you’re ready to do more. Have a look at our exercise handbook for some ideas. If you’ve done pulmonary rehabilitation you will know these rehabilitation exercises and know what you were capable of doing.
The NHS Your COVID Recovery programme has been developed to help support your recovery after COVID-19. If you feel able to travel to a donor centre, you can also consider donating plasma to the NHS trial of whether plasma could be a treatment for COVID.
As you recover, you may need to sleep more. This can be part of the fatigue you feel after you’ve had a virus. However, you may find you now have problems falling asleep. Try to keep to healthy sleep habits. For example:
- make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible
- keep to a bedtime routine
- avoid drinking caffeine, eating late or using electrical items for some time before you go to bed
Have a look at the NHS’s tips on how to get to sleep.
If you continue to have problems sleeping, talk to your health care professional.
The experience of having COVID can be frightening. It’s understandable that it can have an emotional impact. As well as your physical symptoms, your mood may also be affected. You are not alone. Whether you had mild or more severe problems, you might feel
- anxious when you get breathless
- worried about your own health and the health of your family and friends
- down or low in your mood
- you can’t get a good night’s sleep
- doing things you find enjoyable and relaxing: jigsaws, reading, knitting
- focus on things you can control, like eating well
- some relaxation techniques to find what helps you
- having a look at our information about low mood when you have breathing problems, including where to find support.
While everyone is social distancing or limiting the number of people they meet, it may be harder to talk face-to-face to other people who understand what you’ve been through. But do:
- share how you’re feeling with your support network of family and friends
- ask your health care professional for help
- get in touch with organisations that can support you
Our digital hub has information about how you can talk to others online, including joining our web community and also has tips about how to stay safe online.
Call the post-COVID helpline on 0300 222 5942, to talk to our team of experts about your concerns and to answer your questions.
For more information on recovery from COVID-19, including advice if you live with an existing long-term lung condition, take a look at the NHS website Your COVID Recovery.
Recovering from coronavirus?
If you have breathing difficulties after coronavirus, find information and dedicated support for your physical and mental health.
What you can read next:
- What is coronavirus?
- What if I have symptoms?
- What should people with lung conditions do now?
- How can I cope with staying at home?
- What’s the difference between self-isolation and social distancing?
- What is social shielding?
Last updated: Friday 6 November 2020
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