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COVID 19 is a severe Coronavirus infection, that infects the lungs causing symptoms
differing from mild cases. It causes fever, cough and shortness of breath, with severe cases causing pneumonia, kidney failure, and in the worst cases, death.
At the moment, the only treatment is supportive care. There is no specific medication and no vaccine.
COVID-19 is a new disease, which means almost nothing is known about how to lower the risks associated with an infection. Consequently, there is no direct evidence, that having stronger breathing muscles reduces the impact of a COVID-19 infection. However, there is a strong theoretical rationale to support the idea that having stronger breathing muscles might lower a number of risks associated with the infection, including the requirement for mechanical ventilation in intensive care. This is based on the following assumptions:
1. The people most susceptible to serious medical consequences of COVID-19 infection, i.e., a requirement for mechanical ventilation in intensive care, are also those who are most likely to have weakest breathing muscles. It’s reasonable to assume that part of this increased risk might be attributable to factors linked to their breathing muscle weakness.
2. People need to be mechanically ventilated in intensive care because their breathing muscles are unable to meet the increased demands of breathing induced by the infection. It’s reasonable to assume that if your breathing muscles are stronger, you are less likely to require mechanical ventilation.
3. Existing studies exploring the effects of pre-operative breathing muscle training suggests that making the breathing muscles stronger reduces postoperative pulmonary complications, including infections such as pneumonia.
4. The support provided by mechanical ventilation causes the breathing muscles to become weaker, making it difficult for people to breathe unaided when they are removed from the support of the ventilator. There is some evidence that (it doesn’t take as long to ‘wean’ people from mechanical ventilation if you train their breathing muscles during the process. In addition, it is sensible to assume that if you start mechanical ventilation with stronger breathing muscles, then you will be less likely to be too weak to breathe on your own when the ventilator is removed.
Per Andersen is a physiotherapist who suffers from COPD. See how respiratory training has helped him manage his disease.
An assumption based upon the arguments outlined above is that strengthening your breathing muscles now makes it less likely you would require intensive care (mechanical ventilation) if/when you become infected with COVID-19. This would mean a reduction in the demand for mechanical ventilation within the healthcare system, freeing-up a scarce resource. More importantly for you, not requiring mechanical ventilation makes it much less likely that you would not survive COVID-19 infection.
A selection of studies that contain relevant medical evidence can be seen below:
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