COVID-19: Supporting Lung Health & Clearing Techniques to Breathe Easier
Updated: Mar 21
Support the health of your lungs proactively & consider these adjunctive therapies if faced with COVID-19.
With the COVID-19 pandemic upon us there is no better time than now to reflect on your health, whether this be your physical, emotional, or social health.
There is a large focus in the media surrounding the pandemic and the effects we will see on the healthcare system, economics, and most importantly- people's lives.
COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia, an infection of the lungs which negatively impacts breathing.
Although the modalities listed below may not cure pneumonia there are some beneficial considerations when thinking about increasing comfort, improving respiration, and supporting lung function during infection and even before becoming infected as a precautionary measure.
As an occupational therapist, I wanted to share some hopefully helpful tips and therapy modalities that may help increase comfort for a family member or yourself if infected with COVID-19.
Disclosure: With all modalities listed I suggest you consult with your doctor, naturopathic doctor, occupational therapist, physical therapist, respiratory therapist, and/or massage therapist to find a care plan best suited for you or your loved one's needs. Depending on pre-existing conditions and health status, treatment/care plans will vary. Ask care providers for education/programming to empower yourself to treat yourself or family members in this time of shortages and limited physical contact.
1. Positioning During Sleep & While Resting
Positioning is so beneficial in improving your breathing. Simple changes in your position may lead to improved breathing. It is very important to find a position that helps optimize your breathing. Laying flat on your back often impedes air flow. Think about sitting up at 45 degrees and placing a bolster or pillow under your knees to avoid sliding down the bed during sleep or during the day while watching TV. Sliding can lead to what is known as friction & shear on the coccyx leading to painful pressure sores that can develop into wounds- ouch!
Remember- if you are staying in one place for a long time you may be at risk for pressure sores on the coccyx (low back/buttocks area) and heels. Rotate often and support your knees to reduce your risk. You may want to use a pressure relieving mattress or cushion to place under your bottom or heels. Purple mattress products are often accessible and affordable- think about purchasing a couple seat cushions to place under your bottom and heels. The grid pattern helps with pressure relief to help distribute your weight.
2. Chest Physical Therapy (CPT)
Consider having a consultation through Telehealth or in person (if this is available to you) for Chest Physical Therapy (CPT). Chest PT consists of positioning, percussions, and vibration to help clear the lungs of phlegm and secretions. This modality is often used as an adjunctive therapy for pneumonia and in helping those with cystic fibrosis breathe easier. If you are affected, have a professional teach you some basic techniques or have them teach your family members who can perform this on you multiple times per day. Check out the Cystic Fibrosis Association's website for more information to gain a basic understanding of the technique. Always consult a professional prior to treatment.
3. Cupping Massage
Cupping massage may have some benefits in clearing the lungs and supporting lung health. Cupping massage has been used for centuries to treat upper respiratory infections. Cupping brings blow flow to the area and helps eliminate toxins. I highly recommend cupping as a preventative measure to prepare the body for the worst. Please consult a health professional certified in cupping! People with blood disorders and other health concerns may not be a candidate for cupping. Please do not order a cupping set online and begin cupping yourself-underlying medical conditions and/or leaving cups on too long could lead to infection. If unable to find a practitioner in person at this time consult with a therapist through Telehealth for guidance.
Alone in quarantine? Most cupping sets come with an extension hose to allow you to treat yourself.
Your healthcare provider may recommend combining cupping with Chest PT and/or lymphatic drainage. Cupping can lead to increased blood flow to the treated area that can result in increased edema in that area- for this reason you may receive Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage following your session to help clear any edema brought on by cupping and help return interstitial fluids to the lymphatic system.
4. Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage (MLD)
Ahhhh soothing and fabulous lymphatic drainage massage! Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) has so many amazing health benefits it's impossible to list them all here. MLD can be a soothing adjunct to Chest PT and Cupping that helps clear cellular waste dumped into your interstitial space (space between cells in the body) and return waste to your lymphatic system to then be delivered to the kidneys and liver for detox. MLD helps to drain sinuses and improve lymph flow throughout the body. This massage is very gentle and offers as a healing touch when experiencing body aches.
Avoid intense treatments that promise to help you fit in your dress by Friday, as these treatments have the potential to atrophy (KILL) delicate lymphatic vessels. Opt for a certified Klose MLD therapist to offer treatment or Telehealth treatment. Please note that those with pre-existing medical conditions may not be candidates for this treatment so please consult a professional!
5. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a great exercise to start now- before infected. Diaphragmatic breathing helps stimulate the lymphatic system as the large thoracic duct (part of your lymphatic system) passes through the diaphragm. It is also a tool that can provide instant relief if feeling anxious. Envision filling up your belly with air and exhaling deeply. You can have someone guide their hand over your abdomen and push lightly down during the exhale. Envision having a nice big Buddha belly full of beautiful air. Avoid breathing only into your chest. You can also practice this by yourself at home. Help strengthen respiration and the diaphragm prior to infection. Check out this video for a quick how-to.
6. Air Purifiers
Consider the quality of the air you are breathing in your home. If you are fighting a respiratory illness then it makes sense that limiting allergens in your environment will lead to a generally easier time during healing. Swap out your old air filters with new ones and opt for an air purifier and potentially an air humidifier to help breathe easier. There are numerous air purifiers on the market- Molekule is a popular one, but do your research to find the best one for you. These are simple changes you can make post infection or before as a preventative measure.
Hydration!!! If you are dehydrated then mucus and phlegm will LOVE you. The more you hydrate the less phlegm and mucus you will be battling- water is also so crucial to support recovery and health.
Be conscious of the TYPE of water you consume. City water guidelines often indicate on reports that infants, small children, and immunocompromised individuals should avoid tap water due to the toxic chemicals and carcinogens that are found in tap water. Avoid tap water and opt for reverse osmosis water- my favourite easy and convenient system is the Aqua Tru.
PRO TIP- place the Aqua Tru in your cart for a day or two and you will be re-targeted with $120 off on Facebook plus free shipping!
8. Nutrition & Supplementation/ Intravenous Vitamin C
Consider taking an at-home food sensitivity test or have your doctor or naturopathic doctor run blood work to determine which foods are causing you inflammation. Think about it- if you reduce your immune response to allergies, this will result in a strengthened immune system that is not being worn down by fighting the foods/allergens that are invading your system with each meal. You can also consider live blood cell analysis to see if your liver is under stress or if parasites are currently in your system and seek treatment accordingly.
Consult a nutrition professional, naturopathic doctor, and/or MD and get the right food sensitivity testing completed. Once you know what foods are causing inflammation in your gut, start eating the rainbow and gorgeous foods that will help support your immune system for optimal functioning.
REMEMBER: Even though you may think an orange is healthy for you, it may really be causing MORE HARM than good if you are having an immune response to oranges.
You may want to look into intravenous vitamin C and how this can support recovery during pneumonia and consult with your doctor regarding this adjunct therapy. You should receive blood work prior to receiving treatment. A favourite Instagram page of mine is Lococo Wellness where they post daily articles and information.
We are all stuck at home so why not SLEEP?! Sleep is so crucial for your immune system and is so fantastic in supporting your lymphatic system and glymphatic system (waste system of the brain & spinal chord- who knew?!). Check out my post on sleep hygiene for ways to optimize your sleep. Don't wake up until your body wants to- there may be no need for an alarm these days anyway!
10. Meditation & Visualization
Meditation and visualization can be so very helpful for your sense of calm and even in fighting off disease and infections. Visualization of macrophages and killer T cells attacking and destroying pesky viruses or parasites is not a bad idea. Take time to chill out and connect with your body and guide it to go to war with the invaders! I recommend finding a guided meditation that will help you visualize your body taking action against pesky invaders.
Marianne Williamson has a COVID-19 meditation available on YouTube. I also enjoy listening to mediations to reverse aging & support immune function all found on YouTube for FREE!
11. At-Home Saunas
There are tons of saunas you can enjoy from the comfort of your bed to sweat out toxins and help boost the immune system prior to getting infected. Consult your healthcare team/doctor regarding sauna use.
There are lots of different types of saunas on the market so find what works best for you and your space.
I hope you find these tips helpful in supporting your health and/or the health of loved ones during this pandemic. I want to emphasize that these therapies will not necessarily cure COVID-19 but may help optimize your health prior to infection or help to support comfort if infected/experiencing symptoms.
Always consult your healthcare team and professionals in developing a treatment plan prior to implementing any treatments.
Don't forget the value of asking for a consultation from an OT, PT, SLP, respiratory therapist, and/or massage therapist during this time. Remember, if you find yourself in hospital or at home and feeling ill and no therapists are available to you in-person, empower yourself through Telehealth services.
Please take all recommended CDC precautions seriously at this time and focus on your health and the health of others.