Contributed by: Rachana Arya
Breathlessness is just one of the debilitating symptoms that may persist in COVID-19 survivors, weeks and sometimes months after onset. Scientists and doctors are still scrambling to figure out how the novel coronavirus causes such long-term havoc in patients after testing negative for Covid-19.
Breathlessness can seem like an existential threat, and often cause people to feel fearful and nervous. For many people, improvement is slow and it may take weeks before they could walk around the house without feeling short of breath. Needless to say, the impact can be quite debilitating and demoralizing when you just don’t know when the breathlessness will end – will it be a year, two years, life-long?
The good news is that most people eventually return to their pre-COVID level of functioning without a trip to the hospital.
In daily life, what does it look like to be out of breath?
- You feel short of breath or ‘puffed’ whilst going up and down the stairs.
- Going for a walk is challenging because you have to pause often to catch your breath.
- Breathing feels like a lot of effort, and your shoulders are moving up and down while you breathe.
- To make yourself feel less breathless, you can find yourself being nervous and grasping stuff.
Approaches to curb breathlessness
You may use a variety of techniques to better control your breathlessness, including:
- Be realistic and do not overestimate your abilities. Start with brief bursts of exercise or activities and gradually increase the frequency. It’s quick to overdo it when you think you’re fitter than you are.
- Pace yourself and schedule your activities; don’t hurry or complete tasks too quickly.
- Make a conscious attempt to conserve your resources and strike a healthy balance between action and rest.
- Pick the best time of day to do tasks that render you breathless and prepare accordingly, including what you may need to complete the task.
- You may be able to break down individual tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. It might be necessary to spread the duties out over the course of the day or week, alternating lighter and heavier tasks.
- Take regular brief rest periods rather than a few longer ones before, during, and after completing a particular chore.
- Don’t stop doing the things that make you feel out of breath. This will aggravate the issue because your muscles will become weakened as a result of not being used, causing you to become more breathless.
- If you are using a walking aid, such as a stick or a frame, lean forward on it when you feel breathless. This can reduce the work of the upper body and help you recover your breath quicker.
- When you feel out of breath, lean forward on your walking aid, such as a stick, if you are using one. This will help you regain your breath faster by reducing upper-body function.
- When you’re out of breath, try to remain calm, put a complete stop to the activity, lower your head, and use relaxation techniques.
Master the Breathing Control Technique
- Sit in a comfortable position and place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose (or mouth, if that’s easier) and breathe out through your mouth.
- When you breathe in, feel your stomach rise and stretch against your hand.
- The hand on your chest will hardly move if your breathing is under control.
- Try to feel more relaxed and peaceful when you breathe out. Slowly increase the breathing rate.
Be gentle with yourself on the way to recovery. You should expect some days to be better than others, and some days to be worse. It is not always possible to make continuous progress. Do not compare today’s results to yesterday’s, or to how you were before the Covid-19 sickness, or to the results of other people.
If you experience shortness of breath more than normal and symptoms of breathlessness don’t stop with rest, talk to your healthcare professional.
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