Recovery from any infectious disease relies a lot on an individual’s immunity system, and by far, COVID-19 has certainly put our abilities to the test.
Lung health during the pandemic can be majorly affected as the virus harms the respiratory system. Our lungs process and help in the distribution of oxygen in the body. It is therefore extremely important to ensure lung health, especially during these times, to be able to put up a fight against the infection that mostly takes the respiratory route to enter the person.
“COVID-19 can cause lung complications like pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, and in some fatal cases, the total collapse of the lungs. In the case of pneumonia caused by this virus, the air sacs in the lungs are filled with fluid, and the valves of the lungs get inflamed, leading to breathing difficulties accompanied by coughing. While most people recover from pneumonia without any lasting lung damage, this particular virus may cause breathing difficulties that take longer to withdraw completely,” says Dr Karthik Anantharaman, Director e-pharmacy, Medlife.
In cases of acute respiratory diseases, as pneumonia progresses, more of the air sacs fill up with fluid, leaking from the blood vessels in the lungs. This eventually results in severe shortness of breath that may lead to acute respiratory problems.
“Such levels of infection happens, in most cases, to people with pre-existing co-morbid conditions. These conditions could be uncontrolled blood sugar in a diabetic patient, uncontrolled blood pressure in a hypertensive patient, uncontrolled cholesterol in a cholesterol patient and uncontrolled thyroid in a thyroid patient. While these four conditions may not be related directly to lung damage, they play a huge role in reducing the overall immunity of a patient,” adds Anantharaman.
People with pre-existing lung ailments like breathing irregularities, asthma or bronchitis are also at risk for
COVID-19 because there are underlying causes to it. There are instances of cases where people are allergic to pollen, fine dust particles, and even some proteins that cause breathing difficulties. The simple solution is for such people to stay away from these to maintain their lung health. Such people are also prescribed inhalers and medicines to be taken regularly, irrespective of a virus attack. As long as they keep their immunity strong, they are at no higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Measures to keep lungs healthy
Two functions determine overall lung health e Lung capacity, which is the extent to which the lungs can expand, which is genetics. The second is, “lung function”, which is the processing of oxygen and distribution to the body. This function grows until the age of 25, after which it gradually reduces. Improving lung function should be the primary aim, and this can be achieved majorly by exercises.
A minimum of 30 minutes for adults and 60 minutes for children every day is imperative to keep any lung distress at bay. Physical exercise allows us to take deeper breaths than usual, expand and contract the inner lung valves and ensures optimum oxygen saturation levels, to ensure healthy lung functions. It also keeps a check on the Haemoglobin and RBC level in the blood to ensure unrestricted flow to and from the lungs.
Running, brisk walking, cycling, swimming are all good examples of suggested physical exercises. Aerobics help in removing carbon dioxide from the blood while strength training helps strengthen the thoracic muscles and core strength, which are important for breathing. Strengthening these muscles can greatly help a person affected by COVID-19. Substituting these with gentler forms of exercise like Yoga is not advisable. These exercises must be performed out in the open air, as opposed to a confined room with air-conditioning.
For older people or individuals with physical limitations, deep breathing exercises are recommended. They must take deep breaths every hour. This helps in mobilizing unused parts of the lungs.
It has been ascertained that people with underlying conditions like diabetes and obesity seem to fair worse when faced with COVID-19 infection. This could be due to chronic inflammation which influences the body on releasing inflammatory proteins called cytokines. These cause short term inflammation which can help heal the body.
However, chronic inflammation throughout the body can trigger a reverse, overreactive immune response that can cause organ damage. These are also responsible for severe lung damage and death in COVID-19 patients.
The best way to reduce chronic inflammation is to ensure proper nutrition, particularly with foods high in antioxidants like fruits and vegetables. Bananas, apples, tomatoes and grapes are all rich in natural antioxidants and can reduce inflammation over time. Foods rich in Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon help in boosting the immune system to prepare for any virus attacks.
Kicking the butt
Over the last few years, lifestyle has not just changed for good; it has also changed for the worse. One of the worst lifestyle change’ is smoking. Smokers are more at risk of developing COVID-19 complications, and there cannot be a more opportune time to get rid of this habit. Smoking is linked to inflammation and lowering of the immune function in the lung’s airways. This can increase the likelihood of complications if exposed to COVID-19. It destroys lung tissue, narrows air passages, and is a major cause of cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, among other intense ailments.
Medical experts can see a remarkable difference in the lungs as early as 12 hours from the time of quitting when the blood pressure returns to normal. In a week to 10 days after quitting, lung function returns to normal when the individual can take deep breaths without coughing. In 5 years, the risk of heart attacks becomes equivalent to that of a non-smoker.
For patients with lung damage, treatment is a factor that plays an important role, and recovery depends on how quickly they are diagnosed and treated, which can also reduce lung damage considerably. While timely treatment is important, one must practise good habits to ensure healthy lungs in the first place. Proper nutrition, good exercise, and hydration can go a long way in helping people avoid complications.