Yesterday I published a piece about my three weeks with a coronavirus-like illness. One thing I’ve gained from this illness is a new perspective on what helps — and what doesn’t — with this kind of sickness.
Please note that I am NOT a doctor. Please do your own research and ask your health care providers about what might work for you. I’m simply sharing my experience in case it helps. These treatments might help with milder cases of COVID-19 (which are still challenging!), flu, or common cold.
Edit: Something else I found very helpful was to write down the medication, time and dosage (if not standard) each time I took it. This practice became essential as I got into days and nights where I was stressed and sleep-deprived to a semi-delirious point where I couldn’t track anymore in my head.
The things I found most helpful are *starred* below.
Home remedies, level 1
Usually when I have a sore throat, my go-to is to gargle with Listerine®. It’s an old-school, burning remedy, but I figure it kills the throat cooties. This time, it didn’t do much besides briefly numb the pain.
I tried the usual:
- *Hot tea — especially peppermint or Throat Coat® with a small spoonful of honey
- *Honey itself can soothe a sore throat and ease a cough.
- Ibuprofen (Advil)
- *Warm soup
- *Warm oatmeal for breakfast
- Ricola cough drops — I kept one in my mouth every time I left the house. They keep my mouth moist and minimize coughing in public.
I ran a humidifier at night and took a warm shower.
Home remedies, level 2
As my sore throat worsened, I sat up nights, unable to sleep, prowling the internet and my medicine cabinet for solutions. I added to my regimen:
- Elderberry syrup or lozenges — Elderberry is considered an immune-boosting supplement. Not sure it made any difference in this case, and this week, I saw a caution that it could increase the immune response to COVID-19, which might be exactly what you don’t want if the condition worsens (more on this below).
- *Neti pot
- Saltwater gargle
- *Club soda — This is a gem! Club soda contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). It’s shockingly soothing for a sore throat. I kept a little glass on my nightstand so I could sip at will.
- Vicks® VapoRub™ on my chest
- *Hot water bottle to soothe and loosen phlegm
- *Warm showers — The kind where you bathe in the water
- *Very hot showers — Not in the shower! Standing or sitting outside the shower while the bathroom fills with steam
- *Breathing steam — Fill a medium bowl halfway with boiling water (carefully!). Place it on a table where you can sit and lean over it. Drape a hand towel over your head and the bowl. Inhale the steam for about 5 minutes. Repeat 3–4 times per day with fresh water. Change the towel every day.
I started living on soup — no tomato bases (ouch!) but butternut squash was good. Cottage cheese for some needed protein. Oyster crackers are like saltines but without sharp edges.
My doctor prescribed Tylenol (acetaminophen) with codeine for the mouth pain. I took it off and on, always heeding her warnings to not take it — or any acetaminophen or narcotic product — with alcohol. That was easy since I’m not drinking now anyway.
Facebook weighs in
As I also began coughing violently, I shared a plea on Facebook for ideas. That generated a few more concepts:
- Thieves oil — an essential oil blend that someone suggested rubbing on the bottom of my feet. I made my own copycat blend, but it scared my dog away (too cinnamon-y for him!) and didn’t seem to generate any noticeable change.
- An immune tonic designed by someone’s brother (“A chemist!”) consisting of garlic, honey, lemon and ginger, guaranteed to dispel germs. I doubt it hurt, but it didn’t kick the bug.
- *Imitation “magic mouthwash” — Magic mouthwash is a gargle for mouth pain consisting of 1 tsp liquid Benadryl and 1 tsp liquid Maalox. The prescription version includes lidocaine. I didn’t have access to lidocaine, so instead I swirled it around, gargled at the back of my mouth and spit, followed by a nice spritz of Chloraseptic® spray.
- *Allergy meds — Someone PM’d me that she’d had some similar symptoms and eventually learned it was allergies. I don’t think that was the case here, but I tried Allegra a night or two, and Benadryl at bedtime several nights. The Benadryl did seem to relieve the “I am choking on my own throat” sensation and make it easier to sleep.
I can’t help wondering if allergy meds are useful with coronavirus (or suspected) because this virus can cause an immune overreaction, and antihistamines tamp down that immune response. (The most severe overreaction is called a cytokine storm, and it’s what is killing many people who die from coronavirus.)
The hard stuff: Cold meds and prescriptions
I also tried loads of cold medicine — not all at once, of course. One issue with many cold meds that the urgent care doctor pointed out: Long-acting formulations often stop working before it’s safe to take them again, leaving you stranded. For that reason, choose shorter-lasting formulations.
It also can help to choose types with just one ingredient (rather than multi-acting) so you can treat only the symptoms you have. Be careful not to mix multiple cough-suppressant medications, for instance — the goal is to be able to breathe and rest, not to completely immobilize your lungs from clearing buildup.
Again, follow instructions and your doctor’s orders closely.
- *Advil and Tylenol — This combination together (2 ibuprofen and 1 acetaminophen) was very helpful with pain. Remember to be careful with Tylenol and never exceed the dosage limits to avoid liver damage.
- Mucinex — Helped a little, but at some point it started to feel like it was making phlegm runny but not getting it up and out. I discontinued when the choking sensation increased because my mucus was so thin and clingy.
- Delsym cough syrup — Slight help during the day as the symptoms waned.
- Nyquil — Didn’t eliminate the cough; made me feel groggy and angry as I roamed the house coughing all night.
- Tylenol 3 — In week one, my doctor said she couldn’t give me something like antibiotics because my issue was viral (antibiotics only kill bacteria). But she offered some pain medication for my very sore throat. This combo of acetaminophen and codeine helped relieve the throat pain when I took it at night so I could sleep, but after a couple tries it left with me with a hangover-esque headache.
- Baclofen — I have a prescription muscle relaxant to “reset” when chronic muscle tension cripples me with pain. I took it one night at 1 a.m. when I coughed so much that I hiccuped violently, which then made me cough. It helped.
- Prednisolone — My doctor prescribed a round of oral steroids to support my lungs. *EDIT 3/21/20* I learned today that the CDC recommends NOT having steroids with COVID-19 because it can prolong viral replication.
- *Benzonatate (Tessalon Perles) — Some people say this prescription, non-narcotic cough med works wonders. I don’t know that it helped me until the cough was significantly diminished. In the later stages, it was helpful at minimizing cough so I could sleep. I saw online that it works even better with Mucinex (guaifenesin), which did help as my symptoms went down.
- *Codeine cough syrup — My doctor finally prescribed cough syrup. I only needed it for a few nights. When I finally got a deep sleep, it was thanks to a dose of cough syrup around 7 p.m. and another at 11 p.m. with 1/2 a Benadryl tablet.
- Fisherman’s Friend lozenges — These aren’t prescription but boom! They are powerful. They contain a menthol aroma strong enough to drive the dog away from my upper body.
- *Breathe Easy® tea — Seems to help. Once or twice a day with honey.
The recovery period
This week (week 3), my main symptoms have been fatigue, a slight cough, a sore throat, and a low fever. I’m continuing to treat myself with rest and fluids:
- Peppermint tea with honey — No caffeine, refreshing, hydrating.
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables — I’m focusing on eating healthy (and down 8 pounds since this sickness hit me, largely due to lack of appetite or inability to eat for two weeks).
- *Sleep — As much as I can get. I can sleep on my side now, still propped up by a couple pillows.
- Ibuprofen — As needed.
- Zinc lozenges — At least once a day, I pop a zinc lozenge after a meal (after eating = reduce stomach upset). Research shows zinc could help inhibit the replication of coronaviruses, although there’s no sure thing with this version of the virus.
- Vitamin D — Mostly from the sun. I’m going for a walk daily whenever I can manage it, ideally in the sun. Or at least spending a few minutes outside.
- Neti pot to clean out sinuses and help protect my sinuses and ears from infection
- Steam when my throat begins to feel painful
Other than that, lots of supportive chats via text and messenger, some good books, binge-watching “Love Is Blind” and “Sex Education,” and meditation to relieve stress — not to mention plenty of dog snuggles — and I am happily on the mend.
The first night I slept all night, I was so grateful. The first day I could return to my walks, I almost cried with joy. And hey, after all those sessions leaning over a bowl of steam, my complexion is glowing.
Here’s wishing you well — and with gratitude to the remedy-sharers and the creators of vital medicines.
**EDIT 3/20/20 **
As I’ve continued to improve (this is day 27) I’ve tried a few more natural remedies to try to aid my recovery. Over the weekend and into the early week (Days 21–24), I still felt fatigued and weak, and I kept having a little cough.
On Tuesday, I read some new information about melatonin — the sleep-inducing hormone — potentially playing a role in fighting coronavirus, so I added it to my routine. For three nights, I’ve tried the following regimen at bedtime:
- Melatonin — 1 gram
- Arsenicum album 6x — 4 tablets of this homeopathic medicine, dissolved under the tongue. This remedy may be prescribed for thick mucus, coughs, and respiratory problems that are worse at night.
- Goldenseal tincture — Goldenseal is considered a sort of natural antibiotic to fight infection, including in lung conditions.
I don’t know if it’s the natural recovery process or adding these remedies, but each of the past three days I’ve felt progressively better. Today, Friday, I was able to do an online restorative yoga class and go for a walk, and I’m back to work (at home, of course)!
Please note that you should investigate any natural, alternative, or complementary treatments yourself and discuss them with your doctor if you have any concerns. Medical care guided by your doctor is your best bet if you are in the active phases of illness.