An NHS doctor had shared a breathing technique which may help manage coronavirus symptoms at home

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A doctor from Queen’s Hospital in Romford has shared a breathing technique which may help people manage coronavirus symptoms.

What is the technique?

Dr Sarfaraz Munshi shared a video from the hospital, in which he demonstrates a technique used by his nurse colleague, Sue Elliot, in intensive care to manage the breathing of coronavirus patients.

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In the video he said, "While you have an active infection you need to be getting a good amount of air into the bases of your lungs. The only way you are going to do that is by having a technique."

The technique involves taking five deep breaths in and holding each one for five seconds. You should then take a sixth breath in and do a big cough while covering your mouth.

This cycle of breathing with a cough on the sixth breath is then repeated once more. Dr Munshi then recommends lying on your front with a pillow in front of you and taking deeper than usual breaths for the next 10 minutes.

The reason you have to lie on your front, he says is because "the majority of your lung is on your back, not on the front. By lying on your back you’re closing off more of the smaller airways, and this is not good during a period of infection.

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"[It can] lead to atelectasis. This can then lead to a secondary pneumonia. It’s very important that you guys understand this.

"The most important thing is laying in bed for prolonged periods, on your back, is going to close off the small airways. [This will] increase your risk of secondary pneumonia, that can make your condition deteriorate much further – bearing in mind the patients that are deteriorating are deteriorating because of respiratory problems."

Who is the technique for?

Dr Munshi recommends the technique to anyone at home self-isolating with the symptoms of coronavirus. However, he says that people without symptoms may even benefit by using the technique before they fall ill.

Does it work?

Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, tweeted out the video to her followers on Twitter, saying that she used it to help her recover from coronavirus.

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She wrote, "Please watch this doc from Queens Hospital explain how to relieve respiratory symptoms. For last 2 weeks I’ve had all symptoms of C19 (tho haven’t been tested) & did this on doc husband’s advice. I’m fully recovered & technique helped a lot".

However, Brian Oliver, an expert who is a researcher in respiratory cellular and molecular biology at the University of Technology, Sydney, has warned that the technique could do more harm than good in terms of spreading the virus.

"The technique in the video could help spread the coronavirus to people close by," he wrote in The Conversation.

"By coughing, you could directly infect people with droplets, or these droplets on someone’s hands can be transferred to a surface others can touch."

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Though Oliver says the technique is not dangerous, he says that there are currently "no clinical trials or good evidence" to confirm or deny that controlled coughing can help people manage their coronavirus symptoms.

The technique is not currently officially recommended by any public health bodies, and is not a replacement for getting medical help if you should need it.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

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As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms? 

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell. 

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

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All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.

Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

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The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

When to call NHS 111

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Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms. If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS


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