UK Doc’s Breathing Technique for COVID-19 Patients: Does it Work?

UK Doc’s Breathing Technique for COVID-19 Patients: Does it Work?

5 min read
UK Doc’s Breathing Technique for COVID-19 Patients: Does it Work?
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As countries around the world struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the search for probable treatments and courses of relief for infected patients continues.

In a video by Dr Sarfaraz Munshi of Queen’s Hospital in London, he explains a breathing technique advised by Sue Elliott, Director of Nursing, from her experience in the ITU.

The video soon made its way across social media after author JK Rowling claimed that it helped her ‘fully recover’ from the symptoms she had been experiencing. She tweeted, “For the last two weeks, I’ve had all symptoms of C19 (though I haven’t been tested) and did this on doctor husband’s advise. I am fully recovered and this technique helped a lot”

However, it is crucial to critically assess any proposed solution to the disease as it is still being studied by medical practitioners and scientists. FIT speaks to doctors to understand what they think of the technique and whether they would recommend it.

The Technique

People infected with the novel coronavirus are advised to do the following::

1. Take five deep breaths and hold each for five seconds.

2. Take a sixth deep breath and exhale with a big cough while covering your mouth.

3. Repeat this twice.

4. Then lay flat on your stomach bed with a pillow, not on your back.

5. Stay like this for 10 minutes, taking slightly deeper breaths.

“Once you have an active infection, you need to be getting a good amount of air into the base of the lung. I want you guys to start doing this if you have the infection, right from the beginning. If you want to do it before you even pick up the infection, that’s a good idea too,” Dr Munshi says in the video.

In order to evaluate whether the technique does really have benefits, the two basic suggestions in it need to be discussed: deep-breathing and lying on the stomach after.

Breathing in, Coughing Out

Dr Nevin Kishore, Head of Bronchology & Senior Consultant - Respiratory Medicine at Max Hospital, tells FIT that there is no scientific evidence for this working against COVID-19.

But while doctors are not too sure about the extent to which breathing exercises such as this can help in ‘treating’ COVID-19 patients, they do believe that there could be some merit to them.

Dr Nimish Shah, Consultant Respiratory Medicine at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, explains, “We advocate breathing techniques for all our respiratory patients. Even all our Yoga techniques are useful for maintaining lung health. Now the way this virus seems to be affecting the lungs, it may not be a bad idea for patients to try it to optimise their lung functions to the best.”

FIT spoke with Dr Satya Ranjan Sahu, Pulmonologist, PSRI Hospital, who explained that the technique will not be helpful for people who are in the serious stages of the disease. “Due to a virus such as the one we have now encountered, certain patients reach the stage of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The alveolus (air sacs in the lungs) fill up with fluid and are unable to take in air, because of which the pumping action of the lung fails. Most of the deaths are happening due to this additional component.”

He again adds that it is not proven whether these exercises will help patients or not, but it can be presumed that they could keep healthy those parts of the lungs which can later be impacted the most by the disease. It is possible that this contributes to preventing the infection from progressing to the last stage and decreases the chance of compilations among those who are infected.

Lying on Your Tummy: Does It Help the Lungs?

Dr Sumit Ray, critical care specialist in Delhi, explains that lying face down, or ‘proning’ as it is called in the field of medicine, has actually been a part of treating people on ventilators who have severe ARDS.

ARDS, in fact, is the condition which necessitates patients of COVID-19 to be put on ventilators, he explains. “Patients on ventilators are sometimes kept in that position for 18-20 hours a day. Of course, they are deeply sedated.”

Studies have found that this positioning helps with oxygenation, improves respiratory mechanics, facilitates drainage of secretions, increases lung volume and reduces the chance of ventilator-associated lung injury.

“We can just expect positive results, but we aren’t sure about the specifics”, he says.

Experts Advise Caution

Dr Ashwini Setya is a Gastroenterologist and Programme Director in Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital. He brings up an important point to keep in mind while doing the routine.

Talking about the efficiency, he reiterates that there is no authentic evidence of this particular technique. However, our common logic from Yoga and the different pranayamas which we have been practising historically, tells us that they can be effective for lung health.

Dr Sahu also advises patients with co-morbidities to be careful. “For instance, people with heart problems or any other chronic illness may not be able to hold their breath for long. This can lead to complications. So a normal person without co-morbidities may opt for it, but others must be exercise caution.”

Dr Shah adds that these exercises can be quite strenuous because we are blowing out carbon dioxide with a lot of pressure. Even the doctor in the video said he felt dizzy after the first round. “If you feel dizzy, don’t do too many repetitions and ensure you are sitting and doing the exercise.”

It is important to understand that these are not precautions and do not ensure immunity from the disease. While doctors agree such exercises could offer benefit for the lungs of people with a mild infection, they maintain that this isn’t an assured ‘treatment’ of the disease. Studies into their exact benefits still need to be conducted to make any robust claims. Isolation, supervision and medical help is advised.

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

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