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Managing Cough (& other respiratory problems) from Covid at Home

April 6, 2020

Lady coughing into a bent elbow - reduces the spread of Covid-19

Managing cough and other respiratory symptoms in Covid-19 is important for some people who have been required to self isolate with symptoms and supportive care at home. Are you one of them? Then this article might help you…


Cough and other respiratory problems occur very frequently in every part of the world.

We have come to know the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19 infection to be associated with a respiratory illness.

It is thought that one of the commonest symptoms of Covid-19 is a cough, but there is also a dry and often sore throat.

In addition, people complain of sinus congestion that may be associated with headaches and fever as a result of the Covid-19 infection.

Finally, one of the other Covid-19 symptoms is breathing difficulty experienced by many people.

Severe Breathing Difficulty

If a person develops severe breathing difficulty:

  • struggling to complete your sentences
  • Breathing faster than normal
  • Feeling short of breath carrying out very simple basic activity;

It is important to seek medical advice urgently as hospitalisation may be required.

However, we are talking about cases we manage at home, so let’s look at some of these symptoms and how we can manage them in Covid-19 infection.

Cough in Covid-19

“Change to Your Usual Breathing”

Covid-19 is a respiratory illness and thus will have an effect on the airway tract in respect of normal breathing.

The inflammation of the tissues in the airway will contribute towards a change to breathing which most people will be able to tolerate.

The continuous coughing and fatigue associated with the infection also lead to an increased effort to breathe.

These could mean a feeling of a tight chest, feeling short of breath when you undertake very little activity or breathing faster than usual.

Other people complain of shallow breaths.

Any change to your breathing should be discussed with your doctor.

Most of the time they are mild changes to your breathing as a result of the Covid-19 infection which are reversible and do not need hospitalisation.

However, when you have severe breathing difficulty or severe chest pain – please seek medical assistance urgently.

Chest Pain

Pain in the chest could occur for many reasons.

It could be pain from strained muscles due to your continuous cough. This may across both sides of the rib cage on the front or back.

Using simple paracetamol can provide some relief from this.

Moderate constant pain that is unresolved with pain killers or severe pain should be discussed with your doctor for further advice.

Several other conditions affecting the lungs and heart could occur and your doctor will need to know about any chest pain that starts suddenly, and or is severe and not relieved with rest and pain medication.

Dry Continuous Cough

We have learned that the nature of the cough from Covid-19 infection is a dry one, described as continuous in nature.

A dry cough is one in which you do not bring up any phlegm when you cough.

By continuous, we mean:

coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours” –NHS Direct.

In addition, it means – if you usually suffer from a condition where you are prone to coughing like Asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, – the cough may be worse or appear different to your ‘usual’ symptom.

The cough can obviously be quite irritating affecting actions like sleep, eating or talking.

Treating respiratory symptoms

We recommend remedies that may help like some cough suppressants.

Other medicines may be recommended by your doctor – based on your medical history including allergies.

Some people have found the use of mild sedatives useful in dealing with the cough.

Sore, Dry Throat/ Blocked Nose/ Sinuses

Occasionally, steam inhalation could help with the feeling of dryness affecting the throat, chest or blocked sinuses.

Another remedy for blocked nose or sinuses is saline nose rinse – I’ve included a link in the description for how you can do a saline nose rinse using a homemade mixture – Mayo Clinic Saline rinse solution.

Remember this is to clear out blocked nostrils or sinuses that may happen in addition to the other symptoms.

Steam Inhalation is an old remedy that in some people helps to relieve congestion and may ease the dryness in the throat or help to manage the cough.

Benefits of Steam Inhalation

  • Moisturises dry, irritated nasal and throat passages making them more comfortable
  • Alleviates soreness and inflammation of the throat
  • Liquefies mucous secretions, resulting in clearer secretions that are easier to expel by coughing or blowing the nose
  • Relaxes throat muscles, reducing the cough reflex
  • Dilates blood vessels, encouraging better blood flow and overall circulation

Ways to Use Steam Therapy


 Boil a few cups of water then pour the steaming water into a large bowl.  Place gently on a firm flat surface, such as a kitchen table.  Put a towel over your head to form a ‘tent’.  Lean over with your face 15-20cm from the steam and inhale.

Be careful with hot water


Run a hot shower and inhale the steam – you can even use essential oils to help refresh and revitalise.

Personal inhalers

Personal hand-held vapour inhalers or humidifiers are an easy and portable way to enjoy steam therapy on the go.  

Other ways to help your breathing

Avoid lying flat in bed; instead, support yourself in a semi-reclining position with pillows that helps with breathing and cough.

Saltwater gargle is also very useful for dry and sore throat – add a teaspoon of plain salt to a glass of warm or slightly hot water helps to moisten the tissues, hydrates the throat, and may provide some relief.

What about warm or hot drinks?
These will be helpful in soothing sore throats or dry coughs. Avoid very cold water or fluids which generally are not advised in respiratory illnesses like colds or Flu.

So these are some ways that you could manage with moderate respiratory symptoms at home that you could cope with at home.,

Please note that if you have problems with breathing at any point, seek urgent medical help.

If you have any questions on how to manage your fever or associated symptoms – ask here.

Learn more about Covid-19 here, and about other symptoms of Covid-19 here.

If you are pregnant and worried about Covid-19, read here.

More Reading:


Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care.
The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly.

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