Drink tea, take Tylenol, create sick room: Doctor’s tips for when you feel ill

Let’s say you, or someone in your home, woke up this morning with a little cough or fever. If you’re worried it could be COVID-19, what should you do? We ask Dr. Michael Wilkes, who teaches medicine at UC Davis and hosts the KCRW podcast “Second Opinion.”

“The first thing I think listeners should remember is that almost everybody is going to get through this fine. You know, 80% of people will have absolutely no complications. They'll have a fever and a cough … and progress through this without any difficulty,” says Wilkes. 

The other 20% will have more difficulty -- possibly severe difficulty, he says. 

KCRW: Let’s say you wake up in the morning, and you're feeling crummy. You have a fever and a bit of a cough. What do you do? 

Get out of bed, have tea, and see how you’re really feeling, says Wilkes. 

“If, in fact, nothing's changed, and we're still feeling lousy, I think the first thing for you to do is to call your primary care doctor. And when you call the doctor's office, they're going to take you through a series of questions, and only have you come in if, in fact, you meet the criteria,” he says. 

What’s the criteria for seeing the doctor? 

Fever. Cough. Being in a risk group, such as people over age 65, people who have conditions like diabetes, chronic lung disease, cancer or HIV. 

In general, unless your symptoms are severe, you shouldn't ask for a test because you might be taking a test away from someone who really needs one, or you might be clogging up the healthcare system?

“All of the above,” says Wilkes. “But let your primary care doctor walk through that decision. If you do have a fever, and you have a cough, you should call your primary care doctor and talk with them.” 

When do you need to go to the emergency room? 

Wilkes says the ER is a safety net for all of us. 

“Any time a person is feeling like they're going to faint or specifically that they can't catch their breath, they should go to the emergency room and be evaluated,” says Wilkes. 

If it’s so severe that you need to call 9-1-1, Wilkes says to let the 9-1-1 operator know that you might be infected, so the EMS can take the right precautions. 

When you return home, what do you do? 

Drink lots of fluids, listen to your body, and rest if you need to, says Wilkes. 

He adds that if you have a fever, there are two groups of drugs that people consider taking: acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (ibuprofen). 

“With this particular virus, there is at least theoretical reasons to think that the second group of drugs … may cause some problems for some people with immunity. So I would stick just with the acetaminophen,” says Wilkes. 

What if you’re sick but it’s not severe and you can muster through? How do you avoid infecting other people at home? 

“It's really hard. But you can create a sick room. I mean, a lot of it depends on the size of your house or your apartment. But a sick room where nobody else goes. You want to be super careful to wipe down surfaces. … You want to be super careful with tissues … discard them in a safe place where other people aren’t going to sort of get your cooties. And you want to wash your hands,” says Wilkes.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir