Help for possible post-COVID side effects
It’s a good idea to talk to your nurse or GP if you are having post-COVID effects, such as breathlessness or a cough. They will listen to what is happening and do some checks to assess how to help you for your breathing and other difficulties.
If you have new or persistent symptoms it is crucial that these symptoms are assessed. They might be part of your body’s response to the virus or something else entirely. You might need tests or a different treatment.
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.
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, jaw,
- • you feel or are being sick
What will help my recovery?
- — If you are breathless
- — If you need to clear your lungs
- — If you’ve still got a cough
- — If you can’t eat or drink easily
- — If you get tired easily and run out of energy
- — If you’re ready to be more active
- — If you’re having trouble sleeping
- — If you’re feeling low or down
If you’re breathless
- Practising breathing control can help. This is a way to breathe gently, using least effort and is often used in yoga.
- Find a position that helps you to control your breathing and in which you can relax.
“The only thing that has got me through this is my yoga practice which has helped my breathing, has helped the headaches and has also helped with my anxiety around the illness. The other thing that helped was finding the COVID-19 support group and finally realising that I wasn’t alone in all this.”
“Your help linking me to the breathing exercises was a life saver.”
You may also want to be referred to a respiratory physio for help to manage your breathlessness and also to clear your lungs.
If you need to clear your lungs
You may find that you have mucus in your chest and you cough up phlegm. There are some exercises and positions that can help you clear mucus from your lungs.
You could try the active cycle of breathing techniques. This consists of 3 exercises:
- Gentle, relaxed breathing with your shoulders relaxed
- Breath in slowly and deeply
- Gently breath out without forcing it
- Do this just 3-4 times, as too many repetitions can make you dizzy
- Take a medium sized breath in
- Breath out forcefully for a short time
- Keep your mouth open and use your stomach and chest muscles
- Think ‘huffing’ a mirror to polish it
- Repeat 1-2 times
- Always finish on a cough or huff
- Stop when your huff is dry on two consecutive cycles
Do this as a cycle until you feel your chest is clearer. Clear as much mucus as you can without becoming exhausted. Try to do this for at least 10 minutes, but no longer than 30 minutes. If you do cough up mucus, try to do this 2-3 times a day.
You could also ask your GP to refer you to a respiratory physiotherapy for more help.
“I researched online and contacted Asthma UK for help, who suggested breathing exercises which helped me cough up the fluid and breathe easier.”
If you’ve still got a cough
A dry cough is one of the most commonly reported symptoms for COVID-19, but some people cough up phlegm. Learn more about how to manage your cough.
If you smoke
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 can’t eat or drink easily
Your body will need more energy to recover after having had COVID-19, so it’s important to eat well to help you recover. Have a look at the NHS eatwell guide for an interactive guide on eating a balanced diet.
Try to keep to your usual routine for eating and drinking. If you find you can’t do that, try having more nourishing liquids such as soups, smoothies, juice or smoothies. Being ill with a fever can make you dehydrated, so be sure to drink when you’re thirsty and so that you pass urine as often as you usually do.
However, if you get breathless when you eat or drink, or you find eating and drinking take effort and make you feel tired, have a look at these tips. You could also buy frozen ready meals for days when you are very tired, or ask another member of your household to cook for you.
If you have problems swallowing your food, talk to your doctor. They may refer you to a speech and language therapist for a swallowing assessment.
If your mouth is dry, for example because you’ve been using oxygen therapy, try these ideas.
If you find you’re losing weight or gaining weight without intending to, get advice from your health care professional. Find out what a healthy weight is for you and what to do if you are under- or overweight.
“Having ongoing breathing difficulties after so long (7 weeks since I got the virus) and such slow recovery has been very worrying… It’s also made eating difficult because of the breathing difficulties, which can be a bit stressful.”
“I struggled to prepare my meals until a coronavirus support group in our town started to bring meals to me.”
“I’m gradually feeling better, although I can’t do much and need my son to cook for me.”
If you get tired easily and you run out of energy
Post viral fatigue is your body’s normal response to fighting and recovering from a viral infection. It’s likely you’ll feel very tired for some time after your COVID-19 infection. Take time to recover. Resting is very important.
Have a look at this practical advice about dealing with post-viral fatigue after COVID-19 from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists for people who are recovering at home. There’s also a guide to how to conserve your energy as you go about your daily activities.
“The Royal College of Occupational Therapists have brilliant information about how to cope with ongoing debilitating illness. Most of which I’d already been doing simply by realising my own body’s limitations.”
Learning to plan, pace, prioritise and position – the 4 Ps – will help you save your energy
- Planning: organise your daily routines to do essential things when you have the most energy and think how you could to do the task using the least energy
- Pacing: pace yourself through the day and allow plenty of time to rest during tasks and between tasks
- Prioritise: only do what you have to – and what you like doing. Could someone else in your family do some chores for you?
- Position: store things where you can reach them so you don’t have to bend down or stretch.
You might also want to have a read about spoon theory, which is a way to allocate your energy (spoons) to your daily tasks. This might also help your family and friends understand how your fatigue affects you.
Remember, you can use breathing techniques to help you do things if you get breathless when you’re more active.
“I know how debilitated post viral fatigue is, but the rest of the world does not.” – Female, 35-44
“A nursing friend said this week that for every day you’re ill you can expect a week of recovery. It helped me to get my head around what’s going on.” – Female, 45-54
“Thank goodness for the internet… and learning about pace and rest to aid recovery.” – Female, 55-64
“The best help I had was speaking to a friend that said she had the same symptoms and it took her at least 4 weeks to recover. Otherwise I would have… tried to push myself, which could have resulted in deterioration of my health.” – Female, 25-34
“I’m just finding it hard to do things – normal household things – I need to rest and take my time with it.” – Female, 35-44
“Started recovering, then dipped for no obvious reason… Losing about a day a week to sleep/severe fatigue. Returned to work this week on a phased return, working from… and spent non-working day today mostly resting / snoozing as wiped out. Another half day tomorrow. Hopefully it will get easier.” – Male, 45-54
If you’re ready to be more active
Being ill at home with coronavirus can mean you’re inactive and lose muscle strength, particularly in your legs. At first, you’ll need plenty of rest.
As you begin to feel better, you can start to be a bit more active, but don’t push yourself too hard. Try to do little and often.
You could exercise when you’re in bed. Try moving your legs, circling your ankles and punching your arms up in the air and out in front of you. Moving to sit on the edge of the bed is also exercise.
If you’re ready, get out of bed and move around for a few minutes. As your symptoms improve and you have more energy, you could gradually increase your activity. However if you are too breathless to speak, slow down until your breathing improves. Try not to not get so breathless that you have to stop immediately, remember to pace your activities.
Start to do your usual daily activities gradually and slowly to strengthen your muscles – and to improve your mental health. Have a look at this video which suggests what you could do to help you along the road to recovery.
Speak to your doctor about getting referred to a respiratory physiotherapist or post covid rehabilitation about how to exercise as you recover. If you have no long-term conditions, being active will also help with your breathlessness. However, you might find you get out of breath when you’re active – this is not harmful, it’s normal. As you do more, you may find you get more breathless. This is normal. But activity you can make your breathing muscles stronger, and all your muscles will start to use oxygen more efficiently and your breathlessness will decrease. Learn about how being active affects your breathing.
If you do have a long-term condition, talk to your nurse, GP or physiotherapist to check what level of activity is safe for you.
“Being in fresh circulating air such as by an open window really helped me. Even sitting in the garden. Trying to stay calm. Keeping walking even when it makes me breathless, I think it helps.”
– Female, 45-54, East Midlands
“Took a long time to get back to full health. Still a slight cough but walking or cycling daily has helped rebuild lung health. At first a 10 minute walk was too much but now up to an hour cycling.”
– Male, 35-44, East of England
“I am usually very active and exercise regularly but can only go for a slow walk.”
– Female, 45-54, South East
“After six weeks I am now able to go for a 10 minute easy cycle ride, and can do half a Joe Wicks exercise routine.”
– Female, 45-54, East Midlands
“My exercise tolerance has reduced considerably. Now 8+ weeks after the start of my symptoms I have built up to a steady walk of 3 miles.”
– Female, 45-54, South West
“As a healthy individual before COVID, being unable to exercise freely and easily without feeling out of breath has been the most difficult thing for me so far. Exercise is very important to me and helps keep me mentally steady, so I have been trying to build up my exercise slowly which seems to be working so far…”
– Male, 25-34, London
“I keep having to remind myself to take it slowly, any extra activities leave me seriously fatigued for a couple of days. It’s really easy to overdo it and not notice until the next day… Before this I went to the gym 4 times a week and running; the contrast and my expectations are really difficult to manage.”
– Female, 35-44, East Midlands
“I want to exercise for longer/more frequently… but due to breathlessness [and] chest pain on exertion, [I] have to pace myself and rest afterwards.”
– Female, 45-54, South East
“I try to take a short walk or do work in the garden daily…”
– Female, 45-54, Yorkshire and the Humber
“Almost 12 weeks later I still have a reaction to any large physical activity.”
– Female, 25-34, London
“I walk every day for at least half an hour despite fatigue later on, but I believe it’s really made a difference.”
– Male, 45-54, London
“I have struggled knowing how should pace myself and as a 25 year old fit and active young person to not be able to walk for more than 30 minutes without chest pain this is very concerning and limiting.”
– Female, 25-34, South West
If you’re having trouble sleeping
If you have post-viral fatigue, this may mean you also want to sleep more. This may last up to 3 months.
“I nap when the pain gets too much and when my body is exhausted from it all… Before this I was healthy: I ran, I walked, and I didn’t stop each day.”
But if you have problems falling asleep, take a look at these tips from the NHS. Talk to your doctor if these sleep problems persist.
“I got support with medication to aid my sleep problems (which were extremely disruptive and distressing by that time).”
If you’re feeling low or down
As well as your physical symptoms, your mood may also be affected. You are not alone.
“I have never suffered with mental illness or insomnia before – and the anxiety has been horrendous. However, the anxiety is caused by ongoing physical symptoms. We’re not making it up.”
– Male, 55-64, West Midlands
“I was never in hospital and my case was considered mild. I have been given antidepressants to address a sudden onset anxiety that feels physical in origin not mental… All of this is new since my illness.”
– Male, 55-64, South West
“I cried a great deal; only at night. I lost myself and my humour for a while. I did not feel sorry for myself. It was the whole trauma, physically and mentally over a month, and now I want to look forward.”
– Female, 45-54, South East
“The symptoms cause distress and depression. The fact that the symptoms come and go is infuriating. You can feel isolated and not believed… I thank god for some of the Facebook groups and online chat forums. At least I know I’m not alone.”
– Female, 45-54, South West
“My experience has been frightening and made every anxious… It has made me very depressed… However, I am trying to help myself as much as I can.”
– Female, 65-74, South East
If you’re socially distancing or shielding guidance, it may be harder to talk face-to-face to other people who understand what you’ve been through. Do try to share how you’re feeling with your support network of family and friends or to ask your health care professional for help or get in touch with an organisations that can support you.
You can also refer yourself to NHS services in England, which can offer therapies for anxiety and depression.
Charities across the UK also have information, advice and services to help you if you have other problems:
- British Heart Foundation
- British Lung Foundation – recovering from coronavirus if you have a lung condition
- Diabetes UK
- Kidney Care UK
- Versus Arthritis
Your post-COVID stories
Lots of people have shared their stories of recovering from COVID. Some of these people were treated in hospital, but many have been recovering at home.
Read these stories of recovering from COVID.
Speak to us
Our team of respiratory specialists are here to support you with post-COVID breathlessness.
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You can also chat to our respiratory specialists on WhatsApp about post-COVID breathlessness.
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Monday to Friday
Last medically reviewed: June 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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