Managing long COVID symptoms

Find out how to manage fatigue, breathlessness, chest pains and other long COVID symptoms. 

Help from a GP

There is no specific treatment for long COVID, but there are ways to manage and relieve some long COVID symptoms. For example, you could treat a skin rash with cream.  

Your GP might also give you advice about managing long COVID symptoms at home.  

If your symptoms are affecting your everyday life, your GP may refer you to a specialist service to treat long COVID. Find out what help is available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Social prescribing

Social prescribing is non-medical support in your local area. This is sometimes called community referral.

Living with long COVID can affect every part of your life. To help you manage the impact of long COVID on your life, your GP might also refer you to social prescribing.

If you use social prescribing, you will get a link worker. Your link worker can give you emotional, social and practical support. This support is based on what specific help you need, but it could include things like financial advice or help finding local community groups to join.

Living with long COVID

Here are some ways you can live well with long COVID.

Smoking harms every part of your body. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health.  

If you quit smoking you could have:  

  • lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress 
  • an improved sense of taste and smell
  • more energy
  • better lung function, meaning you’ll get less breathing problems like coughing and wheezing
  • easier breathing.

Get help to stop smoking, it’s never too late to quit. 

Staying active is essential to keeping you physically and mentally healthy.

Physical activity could also help ease some long COVID symptoms, such as breathlessness. Being more active can make your muscles stronger, including your breathing muscles. This will help you feel less out of breath when you do everyday tasks.  

It might feel overwhelming to think about being active while you have long COVID, but our Keep Active programme is designed for people with lung conditions. It has everything you need to start exercising, including step-by-step exercises and breathing technique videos.

When you’re ready to start moving more, make sure you build up slowly, listen to your body and work at a level that is right for you.

It’s a good idea to speak to your GP or healthcare professional before starting any new exercise programme if your symptoms are severe or if you have not exercised recently.

Your body needs a balanced diet to work well and help you recover from long COVID. A healthy diet can help to strengthen your muscles, increase your energy levels and boost your immune system.  

It might also be more difficult to eat if you have some long COVID symptoms, like breathless or a cough. Find out how to manage difficulty eating and drinking, so that you can improve your diet.  

If long COVID is having an impact on your ability to work or you’re worried about money because of long COVID we can help. Read our information about financial support and welfare benefits for people with lung conditions.

We also have information about working with a lung condition, including advice about asking for reasonable adjustments. 

Sleep is very important for your health and wellbeing. Adults need around 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. This is why it’s important to manage any sleep problems caused by long COVID.

Read our information about sleep and lung conditions. This includes advice about positions that could help you get to sleep. 

Self-management for long COVID

Long COVID recovery is different for everybody. It’s a good idea to keep a record of your long COVID symptoms, so you can see how your condition changes over time.

Note any changes in your symptoms when you try different activities. You can also track how your symptoms respond to things like activity, different foods, your period, or any treatments and medicines that you’re using.  

Think about what is important to you as this can help you set more achievable goals for your recovery. For example, if you would like to move more, you could start with small movements like standing up once an hour. You can set your activity goals and track your progress in our Keep Active handbook.

While you try different self-management techniques, record the progress you’re making and how you think your recovery is going.  

Here we go over how to manage some of the most common symptoms of long COVID. 

If you have long COVID, you might find that you get breathless.  You might feel anxious or scared when this happens, but you can manage breathlessness.

Practising breathing control and breathing techniques can help you breathe better.  You can also use different positions to help you recover from breathlessness and control your breathing.  

Watch our Keep Active videos. They show you positions and techniques that can help you recover your breathing when you’re breathless. We also have videos showing techniques to help you control your breathing while you’re active. 

Infections like coronavirus irritate your lungs, this is why you’re left with a cough. Your cough should go away as you recover.

You can help a dry cough by: 

  • staying hydrated 
  • soothing your throat with warm drinks, like honey and lemon. Try swallowing repeatedly if you have a cough and do not have a drink with you
  • taking small sips of liquid or sucking cough sweets if you feel like you’re going to cough
  • blowing your nose if you have a runny nose instead of sniffing.

You can help a cough with phlegm by: 

  • staying hydrated 
  • inhaling steam
  • lying flat on your side, this will help to drain phlegm 
  • moving around to move your phlegm
  • breathing in through your nose instead of your mouth. 

Extreme tiredness or fatigue is part of your body’s response to fighting an infection like COVID-19.  

There are things you can do to help save your energy and manage fatigue. For example, you might find the three Ps principle useful. This stands for pace, plan and prioritise. You could save energy if you can learn to pace, plan and prioritise your activities.  

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists has more information about managing your energy levels. This includes advice about doing everyday tasks like washing, dressing and cooking. 

Being unwell for a long time can affect your mental health. You might find you have times when you feel afraid, anxious, low, or depressed because of long COVID. You’re not alone.

There are things you can do to improve your general mental health and wellbeing, like mindfulness, relaxation techniques and keeping active.

We have advice about managing depression and anxiety, including information about the cycle of anxiety and breathlessness.

Some people with long COVID also experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Mind has advice on treating PTSD

It might take some time for your sense of smell or taste to come back.  It’s hard to know exactly how long this could take as there is not enough research about long COVID yet.

You might be able to manage this yourself by trying: 

  • smell training. Smell training is regularly smelling different things to relearn their smell. You can use items from around your home to do this, like coffee, perfumes, or essential oils. 
  • new recipes. Trying different flavours and textures might help. Fifth Sense has a collection of recipes for people with smell and taste problems.

Fifth Sense has more advice about regaining your sense of smell or taste after long COVID

Support groups

You might find it helpful to share your experiences with other people that are living with long COVID. You could join one of our support groups or our HealthUnlocked forum for people with lung conditions.

Get support

Call or WhatsApp our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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