Post COVID-19 care: NHS recommends breathing exercises to help clear out the chest during recovery

According to a study, COVID-19 patients may have a productive cough as a presenting symptom at the onset of the infection or develop it at a later stage

A cough which is wet and full of phlegm - medically known as a productive cough - can be a cause of intense discomfort. You may have experienced this if you’ve ever had a severe cold or lung infection. More recently, many COVID-19 patients are also facing similar issues.

According to a study published in The Lancet in July 2020, patients of COVID-19 may have a productive cough as a presenting symptom at the onset of the infection or develop it at a later stage. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) also indicates that you may have mucus or phlegm in your lungs if you’ve contracted the COVID-19 infection. This is the reason why focusing on clearing out your lungs during recovery is very important.

Exercises to clear your chest

The NHS recommends the active cycle of breathing technique (ACBT) to help clear out the productive cough from your chest. ACBT includes three simple breathing exercises that help clear out the chest:

1. Gentle breathing

  • Relax your shoulders and body.
  • Gently breathe in and out in a relaxed manner.

2. Deep breaths

  • Take a deep breath in, slowly.
  • Gently breathe out without putting any added pressure.
  • Repeat only three-four times, as repeating too many times can make you feel dizzy.

3. Forced expiration

  • Take in a medium-sized breath.
  • Breathe out forcefully and quickly.
  • Open your mouth while breathing out and engage your chest and stomach muscles.
  • Repeat once or twice and end the exercise with the exhaling huff.

These three simple ACBT exercises should be done every day until your chest is cleared out, and if your cough is too productive then you can do these two or three times a day. The NHS says you should clear out as much mucus as you can with these exercises without getting exhausted. So, it’s recommended you do these exercises for at least 10 minutes, but do not exceed 30 minutes.

Positions to clear your chest

Along with the ACBT exercises, the NHS recommends the use of a few positions to accelerate the clearing out of the chest. You shouldn’t try these positions, however, if you have acid reflux, nausea, blood in your phlegm, a recent chest, spine or rib injury, or if you’re feeling wheezy or breathless. You should also not try these positions immediately before or after a meal, and stop if you start feeling any discomfort or side-effects. You can also discuss the best one of the following positions with your doctor.

  • To drain the upper lobes: Sit comfortably in an upright position, especially if you’re too breathless. If not, lie on one side with a single pillow, or use multiple pillows to lie on one side with your head up.
  • To drain the middle lobes: Lie down on your side with one or two pillows placed under your hips.
  • To drain the lower lobes: Lie down on your side with two or three pillows placed under your hips.

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