Breathing Exercises for Long-Haul COVID Patients

For many individuals recovering from COVID-19, the respiratory aftermath can be challenging. Dubbed as “Long-Haulers,” these patients often describe symptoms like shortness of breath, chest tightness, and a general sense of not getting enough air. Breathing exercises, as a component of pulmonary rehabilitation, have shown promise in improving lung function and reducing respiratory discomfort for these individuals. This article explores various breathing techniques that Long-Haul COVID patients can utilize to aid their recovery.

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly Breathing)

The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs, plays a pivotal role in breathing. This exercise aims to make the diaphragm more efficient.

  • How to do it:
    • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
    • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
    • Inhale deeply through your nose, ensuring your abdomen rises (indicating the diaphragm is pulling air into the lungs).
    • Exhale slowly through pursed lips, noticing the abdomen fall.
    • Focus on keeping the hand on your chest relatively still.

2. Pursed-Lip Breathing

This technique helps increase the amount of oxygen that reaches the lungs and can also help improve the removal of carbon dioxide.

  • How to do it:
    • Inhale slowly through the nose for two counts.
    • Pucker or “purse” your lips (as if blowing out a candle).
    • Exhale slowly through the pursed lips for four counts.

3. Box Breathing (Square Breathing)

Box breathing can reduce stress and improve concentration, both of which can be beneficial for Long-Haulers experiencing anxiety with their respiratory symptoms.

  • How to do it:
    • Inhale for a count of four.
    • Hold the breath for a count of four.
    • Exhale for a count of four.
    • Hold the breath again for a count of four.
    • Repeat the cycle.

4. Breath Focus Technique

This is a type of mindful breathing that encourages patients to focus on their breathing, combining it with imagery or a focus word.

  • How to do it:
    • Take a long, deep breath, and exhale fully.
    • Inhale slowly and deeply again, and as you exhale, say your focus word or phrase silently to yourself (e.g., “relax” or “peace”).
    • Visualize calm and peaceful imagery as you breathe.

5. Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT)

While this requires specific devices, it can significantly strengthen the respiratory muscles.

  • How to do it:
    • Using an IMT device, patients breathe in through the device, which provides resistance.
    • This resistance challenges the respiratory muscles, strengthening them over time.

6. Alternate Nostril Breathing

A technique borrowed from yogic traditions, it can help to open up the nasal passages and bring a sense of relaxation.

  • How to do it:
    • Sit in a comfortable position.
    • Using your right thumb, close off your right nostril.
    • Inhale deeply through the left nostril.
    • Close the left nostril with your ring finger and release the right nostril.
    • Exhale fully through the right nostril.
    • This constitutes one cycle. Repeat for several cycles, then switch sides.

Breathing exercises are an integral part of the rehabilitation journey for Long-Haul COVID patients facing respiratory challenges. Regular practice, under guidance from healthcare professionals, can enhance lung capacity, strengthen respiratory muscles, and alleviate some of the distress associated with persistent respiratory symptoms. Always consult with a medical or physiotherapy professional before starting any new exercise regimen.

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