How to monitor your health at home with COVID-19

December 22, 2020

Dr Chase Ng Peng Yun, a junior doctor, explains how to monitor your health at home if you have COVID-19 and when you should get medical help.

Most people with COVID-19 won’t be seriously ill, and will get better within two weeks. But some people will become severely sick and may need to go to hospital. 

Regularly monitoring your health at home can help you spot whether you are getting worse, and decide if it’s time to get medical assistance.

Measure your heart rate

COVID-19 can cause an irregular or high heart rate (over 100 beats per minute). Get in the habit of measuring your pulse regularly so you can recognise the normal rate and rhythm of your heart and know if yours is changing.

How to measure your heart rate:

  • Rest and relax for five minutes before checking your heart rate.
  • Feel your pulse using your index and middle fingers (not your thumb) - press lightly against the inner side of your wrist near the base of your thumb or on the outer side of your windpipe under your jaw.
  • Count the number of pulse beats you feel for 60 seconds, or count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply it by two - this is your heart rate in beats per minute.
  • Feel the rhythm of your pulse for 30 seconds - a regular rhythm is normal. If you’re uncertain, tap out the rhythm on a table as you feel it.

Normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). Your heart rate could be slower if you exercise a lot or take medication like beta-blockers.

A normal heart can miss a beat occasionally. See your doctor if your heartbeat continues to be irregular and you’ve not already been diagnosed with a heart condition. 

Take your temperature

You will need a digital thermometer to measure your temperature. Some go in your mouth while others go in your ear. You can buy a simple mouth thermometer for £5-10 at a pharmacy. 

How to take your temperature:

  • Avoid hot or cold drinks, eating or strenuous exercise for about half an hour before taking your temperature. Make sure you’ve warmed up if you’ve just come indoors from the cold
  • If you’re using a mouth thermometer, clean the tip with cold water and soap then rinse. Some thermometers have disposable tips instead
  • Put the tip gently under your tongue and wait till it beeps or flashes. If you are using an ear thermometer, put it gently in your ear canal and press the button. Remove after it beeps
  • Check the temperature on the display and note it down.

Normal body temperature is between 36.1 and 38.0 degrees Celsius (C). A temperature above 38.0 C is considered high (fever). If you don’t have a thermometer, touch your chest and back to feel if they are hotter than usual. Sometimes you may feel shivery (chills) from fever too.

You can take paracetamol and/or ibuprofen if you feel uncomfortable and are not allergic to them. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration 

Monitor blood oxygen levels 

A pulse oximeter is a simple, painless sensor, which shines a light on your nail or earlobe to work out how much oxygen is in your blood as a percentage of the total amount it can carry (out of 100). 

If you have COVID-19, your GP may give you an oximeter to use at home. Be wary of buying a pulse oximeter online or relying on the oxygen monitoring function of a smartwatch (sometimes known as the SpO2 sensor) as these may not be accurate.

How to use a pulse oximeter:

  • Remove any nail varnish, dirt or artificial nails if you are going to use the device on your finger
  • Turn the oximeter on and ensure that there is light shining between the clips
  • Clip the device on one of your fingers or earlobes. Make sure that the light shines directly through the nailbed or earlobe
  • Wait for a few seconds for the reading to appear on the display
  • Take the reading after it stabilises.

If you are normally healthy and your oxygen saturation falls less than 95%, take a few deep breaths and retake the reading. If it is between 92 and 94%, seek advice from your GP or call NHS 111.

If it remains below 92%, visit the nearest Accident & Emergency (A&E) or call 999 for an ambulance. Make sure you tell the medical team that you have or may have COVID-19.

Some health conditions can affect your oxygen saturation level, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or anaemia (low haemoglobin level in your red cells). Cold temperature and extreme altitude can also reduce the oxygen levels in your blood.

If you have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), your oxygen saturation target could sometimes be lower- between 88% and 92%. Find out your target from your latest respiratory clinic letter or seek advice from your GP.

Log your health

Monitoring your health and symptoms will help you to understand what is happening while you are ill.

Download the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app and spend just one minute every day logging your health and any symptoms. Your information will help us understand this disease and track how it is spreading across the UK, helping to keep everyone safe.

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