This viral coronavirus breathing advice needs context

8 April 2020

Full Fact readers have asked us to look into a video that has been widely shared in recent days, of a doctor suggesting breathing exercises as a way of relieving Covid-19 symptoms.

The video is real and the man featured is a doctor. A medical body has responded to the video saying that, while the advice is not harmful, it may not be helpful and that there are better exercises to do.  

The video, which went viral earlier this week, shows Dr Sarfaraz Munshi of the Partnership of East London Cooperatives (PELC) recommending that Covid-19 sufferers do two sets of five deep breaths followed by a big cough. 

He goes on to say sufferers should then lie on their front for ten minutes while breathing a little deeper than normal, saying this is advice from a director of nursing at the PELC.

Dr Munshi reportedly later told The Times that the advice wasn’t for everyone, should not be taken alone and if people have the symptoms of Covid-19 they should seek medical advice.

He also specifically said that pregnant women could harm their baby if they laid on their front. 

We can’t say for sure whether the advice is effective or not, and it does seem to have helped some people manage their symptoms.

But it’s important to bear in mind that this isn’t universally accepted as the best technique.

For example, the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care (ACPRC) told us: “The cough associated with coronavirus is usually a dry, non-productive cough, so taking deep breaths and coughing is unlikely to help at all.”

“If you have the symptoms of coronavirus and do have a persistent dry cough, there is no reason to make yourself cough after taking deep breaths.”

It added: “Deep breathing exercises for people with underlying lung conditions such as [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] are not advocated by respiratory physiotherapists as it can make their underlying condition worse.”

It said that lying on your front “has been shown to be beneficial in people who have much more advanced illness” but that “there isn’t much evidence that this will help if you are well enough to stay at home” and said it was “concerned that some people may struggle to get in or out of this position without help, for very little benefit.”

The ACPRC recommends something different

The ACPRC did recommend other breathing exercises which may be more effective at relieving Covid-19 symptoms than the exercise shown in the video. 

It said: “If you do want to do some deep breathing exercises it is important to breathe in through the nose, not the mouth as is demonstrated in [this video]. 

“Breathing through the nose warms and humidifies the air and is less likely to make the cough worse. 

“It is also important to only take 3 or 4 deep breaths before having a rest, so that you don’t hyperventilate and make yourself dizzy. 

“If you do have a tickly uncontrollable cough try to control it by swallowing, taking sips of water, or breathing through it.

“Deep breathing exercises may be helpful to help re expand the lungs once the infection has passed, as will getting back to gentle exercise.”

On body positioning it said: “There are a number of positions that can be beneficial to aid breathlessness such as propping yourself up with pillows, or leaning forward onto the back of a chair.”

Correction 15 April 2020

This article originally suggested that Dr Munshi and the director of nursing were employed directly by Queen's Hospital in Romford, when they are actually employed by PELC, a healthcare provider which delivers some services to Queen's Hospital.

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