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Easy steps to increase lung capacity

Dr Jayalakshmi

MBBS; MD; Consultant (Pulmonology)

5 min read

Most of us take breathing for granted. Though this is literally a life and death activity, many of us don’t understand its importance until we encounter breathlessness or breathing difficulties. All those who suffered with COVID and lived through the different symptoms have faced this issue. You just cannot realize the severity of it until and unless you go through it.

In the beginning it feels like the flu. The COVID infection first starts as a viral infection. It infects the nose to begin with and then the throat. Next, it moves down into the airways and goes into the lungs. The virus latches onto the cells in the lungs and starts to multiple in the lungs and in the airways. As this happens, the body mounts an immune response. The immune response leads to a lot of damage in the lungs. This is because there are a lot of cells and liquid that ooze out into the lungs during this time, filling up the lungs and preventing them from functioning properly.

The normal flu is accompanied by fever and the lungs are not directly involved. With COVID, the lungs are directly involved, even with patients with mild illness. When a CT scan is done, shadows (a type of pneumonia) are found in the lungs. This is not seen when one has the normal flu. With the flu, the lungs are only involved in patients who already have preexisting lung disease because of super infections.

The ‘shadows’ in the lungs are due to pneumonia. It can be due to the fluid oozing into the lungs or due to the many immune cells of the body flowing into parts of the lungs. The shadows are also caused by tiny blood cloths in the lung due to the virus.

The lungs’ involvement which can be of different severity is the scariest aspect of the corona virus infection. It is also the most common. Patients can be absolutely fine the day before and within one or two days, both lungs can be completely affected by the virus! This is experienced to such an extent that they are not able to breathe properly and their lungs are not able to take in oxygen.

Breathe life into UR lungs by embracing a healthy routine. Do respiratory exercises.

The lungs have a lot of reserve. Unless they are more than 30% involved, they will still take up enough oxygen and it will not even show up on the pulse oximeter – the reading will be normal. A pulse oximeter shows the saturation of oxygen in the blood. And oxygen comes into the blood only when it is taken in by the lungs.

During COVID, the lungs lose the capacity to take in oxygen to various extents. When CT scans are checked, up to 5% to 10% lung involvement is seen even in the mildest cases. But sometimes, it’s not seen. Among the symptomatic patients there is lung involvement of about 50% or more! This is a huge number!  Those with a mild infection are advised home quarantine. They are mainly instructed to watch out for a fall in the oxygen saturation. If breathing difficulty is experienced it could mean that the lungs are affected.

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Most patients with mild illness don’t have breathing difficulty. But if the infection is moderate or severe, breathing difficulty begins and usually there is a fall in the oxygen saturation. When this happens, patients should immediately contact their doctor or visit a hospital to get their lungs examined. This can be done preferably by a CT scan or an x-ray to check the extent of the lung lesions. The patients will probably require hospital admission, medications, oxygen and steroids. They may also require blood thinning medications.

The COVID infection has a tendency to increase clot formation in the body. For this reason, patients with this infection are often given anti-clotting medication or blood thinning medications. The tiny clots caused by the infection clog up the blood vessels in the lungs. This causes what is known as pulmonary embolism (PE) or pulmonary thromboembolism. It can be picked up with a special type of CT where dye is injected into the vessels to see the clots. 

Post COVID, patients develop good immunity towards the disease. Recent studies show that this immunity can last up to six months or even up to a period of nine months. But even if you have developed immunity or have not got the illness, you should still take the vaccine!

We are very fortunate to get a vaccine for this disease. It’s a result of a lot of hard work that a vaccine has come out in such a short period of time. It’s actually unprecedented and quite extraordinary! Any fear or doubts one may have regarding the vaccines is unfounded. These vaccines that are now available are a new technology of vaccines that has been around for a few years but which finally got developed with the coronavirus vaccine – especially the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

The Oxford vaccine has a viral vector technology which is the traditional technology. But all of these vaccines have an efficacy of 90% which is very good! It’s almost equivalent to the efficacy of a measles vaccine which is universally given. Studies show a very good safety profile of the vaccines as well. If safety is UR priority, opting to take the vaccine is definitely recommended!