Get support if you were in hospital but not intensive care when you were ill with COVID-19

If you are recovering at home from coronavirus after being treated in hospital, you may experience some short-term and longer-term side-effects that affect your breathing.

This may be the case whether you received treatment for coronavirus in intensive care, or whether you didn’t. Recovering from COVID-19 can take quite a while. Whatever stage of recovery you’re in, the NHS Critical Care Recovery website can guide you through, whether you’re just getting home or in later stages of recovery.

How may I feel after having COVID-19?

If you have been in hospital for coronavirus, you may find that your symptoms last for weeks or months. You may find you have the following symptoms after leaving hospital:

  • breathlessness
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • a lasting cough.

This might make it more difficult to do the things you are normally able to do, such as getting washed and dressed or walking up and down the stairs.

How long will my recovery take?

If you had pneumonia as part of your coronavirus infection, you may have a longer recovery time than if you didn’t have pneumonia. How long it will take you to recover will also depend on other factors, such as how bad your illness was and whether you have an existing condition.

This is an estimated timeline for recovery if you’ve been treated in hospital, but remember this may be different for different people:

4 weeks — muscle aches, chest pain, and the coughing up and spitting out of phlegm should have improved a lot.

6 weeks — cough and breathlessness should have improved a lot.

3 months — most symptoms should have gone, but you may still be fatigued.

6 months — your symptoms should have gone, unless you have had a complicated stay in Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU).

Please be aware that this timeline is only a guide. Coronavirus is a new illness and everyone’s recovery will be different. Many people have said they are still living with fatigue months after getting COVID-19, so it’s important not to rush back to ‘normal’ life.

What help and care may I need for my breathing during my COVID-19 recovery?

How long your recovery takes depends on many factors – it could take weeks or months. Everyone who gets coromavirus will be affected differently, which means you may need different care and support needs to other people who have had it.

Here we explain what you may need to help your breathing after having coronavirus. Some may only be needed for a short period of time, while others might be needed for longer.

— If you need oxygen
— If you need help to get active again
— If you have swallowing problems
— If you have a tracheostomy
— If you need a chest x-ray
— If you have a long-term cough
— If you need to be monitored for potential longer-term breathing problems

If you need oxygen

After being discharged from hospital, you may need supplementary oxygen, or oxygen therapy, if the levels of oxygen in your blood are low. This may be the case whether or not you were treated for coronavirus in intensive care. This oxygen support may be available through:

  • home oxygen services
  • community respiratory teams.

Read more about the sort of oxygen therapy you might be offered.

The NHS has more information on managing your oxygen at home on the Your Covid Recovery website.

If you need help to get active again

If you are still mostly in bed after leaving hospital, you can continue to carry out any bed exercises that you were shown in hospital. These might include circling your ankles, lifting your legs up off the bed, punching your arms or bicep curls (moving your arm in and out from the elbow).

If you can, try to sit out of bed regularly to help your breathing, or prop yourself up with pillows if that is too tiring. When you feel ready, you could try getting out of bed and moving around for a few minutes each day, and gradually spend more time out of bed.

You may also benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation. This is a course of education and exercise that helps you to cope with living with breathlessness. This will depend on the seriousness of your COVID-19 infection and other conditions you may have.

There has some been disruption to pulmonary rehabilitation services during the pandemic. Speak to your GP to make sure you are referred to a service that meets your needs. You may be able to do pulmonary rehabilitation in the comfort of your own home. For example, our partner charity, the British Lung Foundation has exercise videos set at three different levels.

If you have swallowing problems

This is a common and persistent side effect, but is treatable. If you have swallowing problems, you might also feel very tired (fatigued) at mealtimes.

You may need to change what you eat and drink, and to do some exercises to improve how you swallow. You may also be referred to a dietician or a speech and language therapist, who can help you with the side effects of having swallowing problems.

The NHS has more information on how COVID-19 can affect your swallowing and what you can do to help yourself.

If you have a tracheostomy

A tracheostomy is an opening made in the front of your neck, which allows a tube to be put into your windpipe to help you breathe. The tube can be connected to an oxygen supply and a ventilator.

If you have one fitted, you may have trouble eating and speaking. To help you communicate, you may be referred to a speech and language therapist. You may also be able to use a speaking valve, which is an attachment at the end of the tracheostomy tube that stops the air leaking out of the tube, allowing you to speak.

Swallowing can be difficult at first, but most people with a tracheostomy will be able to eat normally sooner or later. When you’re in hospital, you might start by taking small sips of water, followed by soft foods, then moving on to regular food.

If you need a chest x-ray

You should have a chest x-ray 12 weeks after being discharged. However, you may have one as soon as 6 weeks after leaving hospital.

If you have a long-term cough

This is a cough that lasts longer than 8 weeks. At the moment, we don’t know just how long term a cough after having had coronavirus might be. Your GP and pharmacists can talk to you about looking after a cough. If you cough does not get better, your doctor may want to refer to you to a specialist to carry out tests.

A dry cough is one of the most commonly reported coronavirus symptoms, although some people might find they have a cough that produces phlegm.

If you have a dry cough, try to:

  • stay hydrated – take small sips of a soft drink, one after the other. Try not to take large sips.
  • inhale steam – pour hot water into a bowl, then put your head over the bowl. If comfortable, cover your head and bowl with a towel
  • drink a warm drink, such as honey and lemon, as this can soothe your throat
  • swallow repeatedly if you have a cough, but don’t have a drink near you. This can work in a similar way to sipping water.

If you have a cough with phlegm, try to:

  • stay hydrated
  • inhale steam
  • lie on either side, as flat as you can. This can help drain the phlegm move around, as this will help you to cough out the phlegm.

The NHS has more information on how you can control your cough if you’re recovering from COVID-19.

If you have another condition that might be causing your symptoms, speak to your GP about how you might be able to tell them apart.

How to tell if your symptoms are due to asthma or COVID-19. If you are experiencing weight loss, coughing up blood, getting chest pain or if any of your symptoms are getting worse speak to your GP or phone 111 urgently.

If you need to be monitored for potential longer-term breathing problems

Your doctor may want to review your care at your 12-week check-up. They may suggest you have scans or X-rays or lung function tests, as it is not yet known what the risk of long-term respiratory problems is for some people who have had COVID-19.

I’m exhausted all the time – what can I do?

You may be feeling very tired during your COVID-19 recovery, to the point of exhaustion. What you are feeling is called post-viral fatigue syndrome, which is a long period of feeling unwell and very tired after a viral infection such as COVID-19.

Lots of people are living with this at the moment, so you are not alone. This fatigue is likely to continue for a while after your infection has cleared up.

You might:

  • be sleeping more
  • feel unsteady on your feet
  • not be able to stand for very long
  • not be able to concentrate very well
  • notice that your memory isn’t as good as it usually is.

For information on how to help your fatigue, how long your fatigue will last and what to do if your fatigue isn’t improving, visit our ‘Recovery at home’ page.

Mental health and wellbeing

If you are recovering from coronavirus, you may be feeling low or anxious – this is normal.

You could turn you your family or friends for support, or your GP, if you feel able to. However, if you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable opening up to, or you are finding it hard to cope, you may find talking therapy helpful.

There are many different types of talking therapy, such as CBT, guided self-help and counselling. You can access some of these on the NHS, while some you may have to access privately.

Mind has lots of information on talking therapies, including:

  • what talking therapies are
  • what happens during therapy
  • how to get the most from therapy
  • how to find a therapist.

The NHS Your Covid Recovery website also has advice on:

  • managing fear and anxiety
  • managing your mood
  • coping with fear and frustration
  • memory and concentration.

If you need more help with your recovery

Homerton Hospital has a post-COVID patient information pack, to help you recover and manage your symptoms after having COVID-19.

Lancashire Teaching Hospital has put together a COVID-19 patient resource designed to support patients with their initial recovery once discharged from hospital after treatment for COVID-19.

The British Lung Foundation has information on recovering from COVID-19 if you have a lung condition.

Charities across the UK also have information, advice and services to help you if you have other problems:

Your post-COVID stories

Lots of people have shared their stories of recovering from coronavirus. Some of these people were treated in hospital, but many have been recovering at home.

Read stories of people recovering from COVID-19.

Speak to us

Our team of respiratory specialists are here to support you with post-COVID breathlessness.

9am – 5pm
Monday to Friday

WhatsApp us

You can also chat to our respiratory specialists on WhatsApp about post-COVID breathlessness.

9am – 5pm
Monday to Friday

Last medically reviewed: July 2020.
COVID-19 is a new health condition, and more information is coming out all the time.  We will update this page with new information as it becomes available.

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We need to understand more about breathing and other difficulties after COVID-19. If this affects you, or someone you care for, we would like to hear from you.

By taking our survey you will contribute important information. The data we collect will help guide research and help us develop our services. This will allow healthcare providers and others to better meet your needs.

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