COVID-19 positive: Managing your symptoms

Key points about managing symptoms of COVID-19

  • If you have COVID-19 there are things you can do to help with the symptoms.
  • This page describes some of the common COVID-19 symptoms and suggests some ways you can manage them.
  • There are also videos about your COVID symptoms and when to seek medical advice.
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Video: Managing your COVID symptoms

The following video provides a simple summary of the key things you can do to manage common symptoms. More information about each option is further below. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Healthify He Puna Waiora, NZ, January 2022)

View transcript.

Are you at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19 AND have other health issues or long-term conditions, talk to your GP, pharmacist, or health care provider about COVID-19 antiviral medicines as soon as possible. They will advise if antivirals are suitable for you. 

  • Antivirals are medicines that reduce the amount of virus in your body that causes some infections such as COVID-19.
  • They are best used in the first few days of COVID 19 infection in people who may be at risk of developing severe illness.
  • They may help you get better faster and stay out of hospital.

Read more about antiviral medicines for COVID-19 infection and who should have them. 

Fever is your body’s way of fighting infection and is a common symptom of COVID-19. If you have a high temperature, it can help if you get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Drink enough so your pee is light yellow and clear.

You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you feel uncomfortable.

  • Make sure the room temperature is comfortable (not too hot or too cold).
  • If possible, open a window for fresh air but avoid draughts.
  • Wear lightweight clothing and use lighter bedding.
  • Use a cool cloth to wash your face, hands and neck.
  • Change bed linen and clothing regularly, especially if they are wet from sweat. 
  • Do not use hot water bottles or electric blankets.

Read more about fever.

Body aches due to COVID-19 can feel like a dull, aching sensation in your muscles. This sensation could affect one or several parts of your body and may range from mild to severe.

Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with headaches and body aches. A bath may also be soothing.

Use saline nose drops or spray to help soothe or clear a stuffy nose. Medicated decongestants such as oxymetazoline (Drixine®) and xylometazoline (Otrivin®) may also be helpful but be aware that they are only for short term use. Do not use them for longer than 7 days. If you use them for longer than this, a rebound more severe congestion of your nose can happen. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which medication will be the best for you. 

Steam inhalation
Some people find steam inhalation helpful in relieving congestion, but scientific studies have found that it has few proven benefits and can cause serious harm like burn injuries. A recent study has found a significant increase in burns in children caused by steam inhalation, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, there is no evidence that inhaling steam kills the virus.

Steam inhalation for adults: If it is something you like to do, and have found helpful for clearing a blocked nose in the past, make sure the water isn't too hot and be careful carrying containers of hot water – especially when there are tamariki around. Some people add eucalyptus oil or other essential oils to the water, thinking that the scented steam will clear their blocked nose. Take care when using essential oils and keep them out of reach of children. Read more about steam inhalation and essential oils.  

Steam inhalation for children: This is not recommended for children, so it is best to find a different way of managing your tamariki with blocked noses. 

Some people find using vapour rubs soothing and helps relieve nose and chest congestion. Vapour rubs are ointments that contain essential oils such as menthol, camphor and eucalyptus. They are usually applied to your skin, on your throat, chest or back. Rub gently and leave clothes loose to allow vapours to be inhaled easily. 

Some brands of paper tissues are eucalyptus scented and these may help with a blocked nose too. 

Suck a teaspoon of honey, gargle with salt water, or gargle with warm water to ease a sore throat. Sucking on sugar-free lollies or lozenges also helps. You can also try using a gargle, throat spray or pain-relief (anaesthetic) lozenges.

If your throat is very sore, making it hard to swallow, try slightly thicker fluids than water, eg, smoothies, yoghurt or custard. These runny foods may make it easier to swallow tablets with as well.

If your throat is so sore that you are having problems drinking the amount of water or other drinks you need to stay well hydrated, talk to your doctor. Some of your medicines may need to be adjusted if you are not drinking as much fluid as usual. 

If you have a cough, it's best to avoid lying on your back. Lie on your side or sit upright instead. 

You may find sucking honey or sipping a hot drink helps ease your cough. It can help to sooth the scratchiness in the back of your throat.

There are a number of cough medicines available on the market. They may be sold in combination with other medicines in cold and cough products, or as cough mixtures or cough lozenges. Cough medicine doesn’t cure a cough but may give you some relief from it. There is little evidence to suggest that cough medicine is any more effective than simple home remedies and they're not suitable for everyone. If you are unsure talk to your pharmacist.

Some people with COVID-19 may get diarrhoea (runny poo), feel sick (nausea), or be sick (vomiting). These symptoms should usually settle within a few days. 

Avoid dehydration

The most important thing is to drink plenty of fluids, to avoid dehydration. 

  • Try sucking ice cubes or ice blocks if you are having trouble keeping fluids down.
  • Drink oral rehydration drinks such as Gastrolyte® (available from pharmacies).
  • Eat when you feel able to – you don't need to eat or avoid eating any specific foods. Some people find eating bland foods such as crackers, rice or dry toast helpful.

Fizzy drinks, undiluted juices, tea, coffee and sports drinks are not suitable because of their high sugar content. High sugar content is likely to make diarrhoea worse. Read more about dehydration. 


  • Eat when you feel able to – you don't need to eat or avoid eating any specific foods. Some people find eating bland foods such as crackers, rice or dry toast helpful.
  • Some people find ginger helpful, taken as ginger tea, ginger-containing foods like soups, or ginger capsules.  

If these symptoms are ongoing, talk to your doctor as they may recommend anti-nausea medicines. 

Other common symptoms

Learn more about how to manage other symptoms:

It's important to know when to seek medical advice and the following video and table will help you know when and what action to take. 

Video: COVID symptoms and when to seek medical advice

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Healthify He Puna Waiora, NZ, 2022)

Call 111 if you:

  • have severe trouble breathing or severe chest pain
  • are very confused or not thinking clearly
  • feel faint or pass out (lose consciousness).   

Call your healthcare team if:

  • you have new or more trouble breathing
  • your symptoms are getting worse
  • you start getting better and then get worse
  • you have symptoms of severe dehydration such as:
    • having a very dry mouth
    • passing only a little urine (pee)
    • feeling very light-headed.   

You may experience very mild or no symptoms.

  • It is important to stay hydrated – drink plenty of fluids.  
  • Keep monitoring your symptoms so you notice any changes.
  • It is important to avoid running, strenuous exercise and high impact activities until you are totally well.

Note: from 13 February 2023, some people will have to pay for COVID-related visits to their healthcare provider. COVID care will still be free for you if you:

  • have a high-risk medical condition
  • are Māori or Pasifika
  • have a disability
  • are aged 65 years or older
  • meet the criteria for antiviral medicine.

Most people will be able to manage their symptoms and recover at home. However, if you need to go to hospital because of COVID, hospital care will remain free. 

If you need help, contact your healthcare provider for advice or call Healthline 0800 358 5453.

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Credits: Healthify Pharmacists. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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