6 Myths About COVID-19 Treatments, Debunked By Doctors

Plus, what to do if you’re riding out the virus at home.

by JR Thorpe
An empty hospital bed. Coronavirus treatments are few and far between, and recovery at home is the b...
Ponsulak Kunsub / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

So your mom got her COVID-19 test results after feeling off for a few days — and they're positive. Her Facebook friends are telling her to stock up on everything from vitamin C to steroids, but despite all the myths about COVID-19 treatment, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about how to help people who have it — especially not for a case where someone's not hospitalized.

“As the world continues to deal with the effects of the novel coronavirus, certain drugs have been touted as good treatment measures,” Dr. Seema Sarin M.D., director of lifestyle medicine at EHE Health, tells Bustle. “But this may not be the case.”

When it comes to coronavirus treatment, there are a lot of unknowns. Dr. Shmuel Shoham M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Bustle that there are no medications currently approved for preventing COVID-19, and no recommendations for treating mild cases.

Always follow your doctor's guidance about managing coronavirus at home, which typically will just mean self-isolating, monitoring your temperature, and making sure you're hydrated. And when something's touted as the next big thing for COVID-19, check to see what the World Health Organization or National Institutes Of Health say about it first.

Here are some myths about COVID-19 treatment that doctors want to debunk.

Myth 1: "Anybody With COVID Should Seek Treatment At A Hospital"

“Studies are reporting that the majority of those infected [with coronavirus] display only mild to moderate symptoms,” Dr. Sarin says. “For those patients, supportive care, like rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications may be all that is needed.”

"Get rest and stay hydrated," Dr. Robert Quigley M.D., regional medical director of risk mitigation company International SOS, tells Bustle. "If you’re feeling extremely unwell, take over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen. Stay in close communication with your doctor and call before seeking medical care."

If you’re not experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion or other severe coronavirus symptoms, it’s recommended that you self-isolate at home after a positive test to try and recover. (If you or someone you live with is having those symptoms, call your doctor immediately.) The CDC says most people with mild to moderate cases aren't contagious 10 days after symptoms start; from there, if it's been 24 hours since your last fever, their guidelines say it's OK to stop isolating.

Myth 2: "Keep Hydroxychloroquine Around, Just In Case"

While the lupus medication hydroxychloroquine was touted as a possible treatment for coronavirus early in the pandemic, that link has been thoroughly debunked. In the middle of June, the FDA revoked its emergency authorization for use because of its potential to cause heart rhythm issues.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drugs such as hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine have no beneficial effects on patients hospitalized for COVID-19,” Dr. Sarin says. “These drugs were designed to reduce fever and inflammation in people with diseases such as malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.” High demand for those drugs has meant there are supply shortages for those people who really need them.

Myth 3: "You Can Treat Mild COVID With Antiviral Drugs"

Antiviral medications, which work to protect the body against viruses, seem like a logical treatment for COVID-19, the way you'd take one if you caught the flu. But respiratory viruses are hard to treat, and antiviral drugs that work for the flu haven't shown much promise against coronavirus.

“The truth is, at this point, there is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID 19,” Dr. Sarin says. Normal antiviral medication seems to have no effect on mild cases. The one antiviral drug that’s shown some possibilities, Dr. Shoham says, is Remdesivir, but it’s for emergency use only, and is used for patients who are sick enough to need supplemental oxygen.

Myth 4: "Antibiotics Will Help"

This is one of those not-exactly-true myths. One antibiotic might be useful — but only for people who are in the hospital.

"Azithromycin is an antibiotic that has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties which have proven to be helpful in hospitalized patients," Dr. Teresa Bartlett M.D., senior medical officer at claims company Sedgwick, tells Bustle. (Antibiotics aren't used for viral diseases because they target bacterial infections.) It's now being tested in a clinical trial, but it shouldn't be used at home or without medical supervision.

Myth 5: "Buy Up Dexamethasone For Your Medicine Cabinet"

Anti-inflammatory steroids have been in the news lately because one kind, dexamethasone, was found to be a possible treatment for severe COVID-19 in an Oxford study. “Dexamethasone is recommended for people who are sick enough to require supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation,” Dr. Shoham says. Doctors advise against stockpiling it or using it to treat COVID-19 at home.

Myth 6: "You Can't Help With COVID Treatment Research"

As the national case rate climbs ever higher, it's easy to feel like we're helpless in the face of COVID. This isn’t quite true. If you've had COVID-19 already, Dr. Shoham says your plasma could be helpful for others going through it now. Plasma is the part of your blood that stores antibodies to diseases like COVID-19. Donating plasma can help give vaccine researchers insight into how to create a lasting, helpful immune response. Some hospitals are also treating COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma, a protocol that was just approved for emergency use by the FDA, though more research is needed to know how much it might help.


Dr. Teresa Bartlett M.D.

Dr. Robert Quigley M.D.

Dr. Seema Sarin M.D.

Dr. Shmuel Shoham M.D.