Deep Breathing vs. Diaphragmatic Breathing for Long COVID

The respiratory system, being one of the primary targets of the COVID-19 virus, often bears the brunt of its aftermath. Long COVID, characterized by persistent symptoms long after acute infection, frequently involves continued respiratory discomfort. Breathing exercises play a crucial role in recovery, and among them, deep breathing and diaphragmatic breathing are often recommended. This article will compare these two techniques in the context of Long COVID recovery.

1. Understanding the Techniques

  • Deep Breathing: Also known as full or complete breathing, this involves taking slow, full breaths. It engages the entire lung, from top to bottom, and typically combines chest and abdominal breathing. The objective is to increase oxygen exchange by using the full lung capacity.

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing (or Abdominal Breathing): This technique emphasizes breathing deeply into the lungs by engaging the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle located below the lungs. When you breathe in using the diaphragm, the abdomen expands rather than the chest.

2. Benefits in the Context of Long COVID

  • Deep Breathing:

    • Maximizes Oxygen Intake: It ensures that the entire lung is filled with air, promoting better oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange.
    • Engages Different Lung Parts: This can be beneficial for patients with patchy lung involvement, as seen in some COVID cases.
    • Relaxation: Deep breaths can stimulate the body’s relaxation response, mitigating anxiety that many Long-Haulers report.
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing:

    • Efficient Oxygenation: The lower part of the lungs is richer in alveoli—the tiny sacs where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange takes place. By engaging the diaphragm, more air reaches these areas.
    • Reduces Respiratory Strain: It minimizes the involvement of accessory muscles in the neck and chest, promoting more efficient breathing.
    • Core Strengthening: Regular practice can strengthen the diaphragm, which also benefits overall core strength.

3. Which is Best for Long COVID Patients?

The answer isn’t one-size-fits-all. Both techniques offer advantages:

  • Those with higher anxiety levels or upper lung involvement might find deep breathing more beneficial initially.
  • Those with generalized lung discomfort or those looking for a more sustainable long-term breathing practice might lean towards diaphragmatic breathing.

However, many respiratory therapists recommend a combination of both. Starting with diaphragmatic breathing can lay a strong foundation, ensuring the engagement of the lower lungs. Integrating deep breathing can then ensure that the entire lung is utilized.

4. How to Practice

  • Deep Breathing: Sit or lie down comfortably. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, allowing both your chest and abdomen to rise. Exhale slowly through the mouth or nose. Focus on the breath, and try to increase the inhalation and exhalation duration progressively.

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Lie down with knees bent or sit comfortably. Place one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. Breathe in slowly through the nose, ensuring only the abdomen rises. The chest should remain still. Exhale slowly.

5. Precautions

  • Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any breathing exercise, especially if you have underlying health conditions.
  • If either technique induces dizziness, discomfort, or anxiety, pause and consult a professional.

Breathing exercises are a cornerstone of pulmonary rehabilitation post-COVID. Whether you choose deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, or a combination, the key is consistency and patience. Over time, these techniques can significantly aid in respiratory recovery and overall well-being.

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