Long-term breathing problems in COVID-19 sufferers

woman suffering from COVID-19 wearing mask

Long-term breathing problems in COVID-19 sufferers

Dr. Anthony Warren
| 2020-10-06 | 2 min read

Most people who have COVID-19 recover completely within a few weeks. But some, even those who have mild versions of the disease, continue to experience symptoms after initial recovery. We are now learning more about the long-term health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications on already strained healthcare systems. According to Lord Bernard Ribeiro, past president of the UK Royal College of Surgeons and an active member of the House of Lords, a significant fraction of patients discharged from hospital can be left with lung scarring, known as pulmonary fibrosis and other forms of irreversible lung damage. In addition, the Mayo clinic in Minneapolis reports that the class of pneumonia often associated with COVID-19 causes long-standing damage to the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The resulting scar tissue can lead to long-term breathing problems. Peer reviewed studies in the USA, China, Korea, the UK and elsewhere suggest this fraction may be over 50%. This translates to a minimum of 500,000 new patients globally that will need long-term care putting enormous strain on already highly overloaded physicians, respiratory therapists and their assistants.

Fortunately, we already know a lot about how certain breath training methods have demonstrated significant success in the management of reduced lung capacity in such cases as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Calling on this experience may help in recovery from post-COVID damage.

For example, pulmonary rehabilitation experts such as Dr. Peiting Lien at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, believe that recovering lost lung function is possible but can require therapy and exercises for months after the initial infection is treated. Lien states, “Working toward recovery starts simple: with a focus on breathing,” Lien offers a series of breathing exercises to aid in recovery for those who had COVID-19. But, sadly, treatment is unavailable for the majority of patients because of an acute shortage of locally-based skilled therapists.

According to Dr. Rosalba Courtney, a leading researcher and breath training clinician based in Sydney, Australia, “I have improved the health and quality of life for hundreds of poor breathers over the last twenty years guiding them through breathing exercises. But there is a limit to the number of people I can help in my clinic. With personalized breath training apps, such as breathesimple™, many thousands of sufferers can potentially get benefit matching their own schedule and in the comfort of their own home.”

For further more detailed information see:

“Abnormal pulmonary function in COVID-19 patients at time of hospital discharge”, Xiaoneng Mo, et. al. Euro. Resp. Jnl., 2020 55: 2001217; DOI: 10.1183/13993003.01217-2020

“Long-term Pulmonary Consequences of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)”, Salehi, Sana MD, et. Al.; Jnl. of Thoracic Imaging: July 2020 - Volume 35 - Issue 4 - p W87-W89 DOI: 10.1097/RTI.0000000000000534

“Effects of Breathing Exercises in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”, Nutsupa Ubolnuar et.al. Ann Rehabil Med. 2019 Aug; 43(4): 509–523. DOI: 10.5535/arm.2019.43.4.509