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COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that targets the lungs.
The virus can continue to move down the respiratory tract eventually landing in the lungs, where it can cause inflammation and infection, making it more difficult to breathe.
The most serious cases of COVID-19 involve lung infections where the virus can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome, which can be potentially fatal as it closes off air sacs and causes inflammation of the lungs, making breathing difficult.
Although most COVID-19 cases resolve with mild to moderate symptoms, it is important to keep the lungs healthy during this time. For many patients, deep breathing exercises can be helpful.
Here’s how deep breathing works:
Take a slow, deep breath in. Hold it for five seconds, then slowly exhale. Repeat five times, ending the fifth repetition with a cough to expel any mucous.
Sick people can do this exercise every couple of hours.
Patients who have had surgery in the past are probably familiar with this exercise. Oftentimes, the exercise is done with a spirometer and patients breathe in through a tube and move a piston up the device to measure their breaths.
Taking in a slow, deep breath and then coughing helps open the lower part of the lungs, where infection can set in, and dislodge any mucous that may have collected there.
In more serious COVID-19 cases, physicians also position patients in the hospital on their stomachs (called prone positioning). Lying on your back can put pressure on some sections of the lung, but proning opens the lungs, helping oxygen flow.
Joan Cecich, system director of respiratory care at Edward-Elmhurst Health, said hospital staff are using these techniques with hospitalized patients as well as with those patients who have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering at home.
She noted that patients with COVID-19 who come to the emergency department but are discharged to recover at home, are sent home with a couple of tools to aid in their recovery from the virus.
Each patient receives a spirometer to use for deep breathing exercises at home and a pulse oximeter to monitor their blood oxygen levels, with instructions on what to do if those levels dip.
Patients who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 and are discharged to go home also are sent home with a spirometer to continue their breathing exercises.
Follow-up care also includes patients reporting their pulse oximeter readings through text to a case manager from the Emergency Department.
For updates on COVID-19, check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.
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