You may have seen the below video about a breathing technique for patients with COVID-19. In this video, Sarfaraz Munshi, a physician from Queen’s Hospital in the UK, demonstrates a technique to help patients suffering from COVID-19.
“Once you have an active infection, you need to be getting a good amount of air into the base of your lungs,” Munshi says in the video.
The breathing exercise he suggests is a well-established one, useful for many conditions, that is good clearing out excess fluid from the lungs. It’s also one that has been used recently by JK Rowling and Christopher Cuomo to manage their symptoms.
Lying on your back for long periods increases risk of pneumonia
“This is a manoeuvre that can help any condition that leads to excess mucus,” says Albert Rizzo, MD, and the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. This includes patients with COVID-19, as symptoms include shortness of breath, with pneumonia being a common complication.
As Munshi notes during the video, lying on your back in bed for a prolonged period of time increases your risk of getting pneumonia, which will make your condition worse.
“When you are sedentary for long periods, this traps mucus deep in your lungs,” Rizzo says.
Breathing exercises can help clear your lungs
To counteract this effect, Munshi suggests some breathing exercises that can help clear your lungs, which Rizzo also recommends as helpful.
“This is a good manoeuvre to help maximise your lung’s ability to clear secretions,” Rizzo says.
Munshi’s advice, summarized briefly, is to do a series of deep breaths followed by a controlled cough. For each breath, you breathe in, hold it for five seconds, then exhale. On the sixth breath, you breathe in, hold for five seconds, then, while covering your mouth, you cough out, in order to clear your airways.
“The cough at the end mobilizes secretions,” Rizzo says. “This loosens mucus, moving the mucus toward the centre of the chest.”
Repeat this cycle once more, then follow this by lying face-down with a pillow in front of you, breathing deeply for ten minutes. It’s also important not to spend too much time lying on your back, as that closes off the smaller airways.
“One caveat is you don’t want to do this fast, because you can hyperventilate and feel dizzy,” Rizzo says. “Do it in a way that is comfortable for you.”
Lying on your stomach helps cough out mucus
This final step of lying on your stomach with a pillow in front of you and taking deep breaths, is known as postural drainage, works by letting gravity pull mucus toward the centre of your chest, so that you can then cough it out. For patients who are lying on their back a lot, the risk is that all this mucus will collect at the bottom of your lungs, where it affects your breathing.