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COVID-19 Recovery: Boston Doctor Explains Importance Of Deep Breathing

BOSTON (CBS) -- For many, recovering from COVID-19 can take time, even for those who have mild disease. WBZ-TV's Kate Merrill knows this first-hand. After recovering from the virus a few weeks ago, she still finds her breathing is still not back to 100%. Figuring there are lots of people like her, she reached out to Brigham and Women's Hospital Pulmonologist, Dr. Daniela Lamas for some guidance.

Kate: When you have a COVID patient, when they are first diagnosed, what are some of the things you recommend at first?

Dr. Lamas: I have been recommending to patients to get a pulse oximeter, so they can check their oxygen level, clearly being on the lookout for worsening symptoms.

A pulse oximeter is one of those devices that when placed over your fingertip, it can read the oxygen saturation of your blood. Dr. Lamas told us that anything under 95% saturation should warrant a call to your doctor and anything under 90% means a trip to the hospital.

Kate: When I got COVID, I laid in my bed. I didn't do anything because I didn't feel good. But in hindsight, I didn't do myself any favors by just staying in bed and not using my lungs.

Dr. Lamas: When you are in a bed and are just sort of lying in bed and slouched over in bed every day, if somebody is not taking deep breaths to really get to the bottom of the lungs, those can have little bits of collapse, not in a way that is permanent and not in a way that is dangerous. There are sort of exercises that you can do, sort of deep breaths basically with the goal to sort of get open the bottoms of your lungs. That's kind of what you do when you exercise.

Kate: What should I be doing, or someone like me who is post-COVID, to sort of build that [strength] back.

Dr. Lamas: Taking walks. Making sure that you are in that environment where you take deep breaths is important. We are still learning about COVID. The idea that you had it and it was mild thus you should just be able to bound back. Is not necessarily true for everyone. I would say, patients who have had COVID, if they do have sort of a new, persistent cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, [they should] talk to their primary care doctor about whether they would benefit from a referral to a pulmonary doctor and maybe pulmonary function testing could be beneficial.

Doctors have found that turning some hospitalized COVID patients on their bellies can help improve breathing.

Kate: Lying on your stomach, is that something we should be doing?

Dr. Lamas: I don't have any evidence that for people without a breathing issue as a result of COVID, without any COVID pneumonia… we don't have that knowledge.

Dr. Lamas told WBZ-TV  that breathing exercises won't prevent you from getting serious disease, but they could help you recover, particularly if you have other health issues that prevent you from walking or other exercises to strengthen the lungs. She also said deep breathing can help with managing the stress that often comes along with a COVID diagnosis.

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