Three steps to protect your lungs in case of a COVID-19 infection

For most people, a COVID-19 infection means mild symptoms. But for the small percentage that gets really sick, shortness of breath is among the most common signs of an infection.

Infected lungs can land somebody in the hospital if trouble with breathing persists. 

As people continue quarantining in their homes, there are three tricks people can use that could help prepare their lungs for a possible infection. 

When COVID-19 gets into your body and replicates, it can make its way deep into the nooks and crannies of your lungs.

"The main thing that COVID-19 will do in the lungs is it causes inflammation in the lungs and that inflammation causes fluids to fill up the air sacs that normally we use to extract oxygen from the air," said Dr. Bruno DiGiovine. "So when you have a bad case of pneumonia, you'll have difficulty getting oxygen into the lungs and feel short of breath. 

Dr. Bruno DiGiovine is a pulmonology and critical care specialist at St. Joe's Ann Arbor.

Tip 1: Getting air deep into the lungs

"Make sure they're opening up the lungs as much as possible using all of the available air sacs to move oxygen in and to excrete out carbon dioxide," he said. 

An instructional video from the American Lung Association shows that using pursed lipped breathing can get oxygen into the lungs and CO2 out.

DiGiovine also said that coughing up mucous is good, too.  

"The inflammation that Covid can cause in your lungs will cause mucous in the lungs and that's what impairs the ability to get oxygen in and out and that mucous can obstruct airways so that can be whole portions of the lungs not getting enough air so if there are any mucous down there you're going to want to take a deep breath and cough that up," he said.

Tip 2: Lie on your stomach

When you lie on your stomach instead of your back, it helps prevent fluids from accumulating in your lungs.

"We do this in the hospital with critically ill patients, we do that with patients who are on oxygen," said DiGiovine. "It really is important to encourage everybody to help those areas of the lungs stay open and I think even that helps decrease inflammation and further damage to the lungs."

Tip 3: Move around as much as possible 

"The thing that probably encourages you the most to deep breath and clear out mucous is to exercise," said DiGiovine. "So keep moving, keep active, obviously isolate when you need to. You don't want to be going outside when you're infectious, but as much as you can move around your house, that would be great." 

One topic that doctors are debating is that patients should purchase a pulse oximeter. 

The tiny device clips onto the end of your finger and measures the level of oxygen in your blood. A normal level is about 95% but if you contract COVID-19, that level can drop.

Dr. DiGiovine says it can be a useful tool to help know when oxygen levels are dropping and you need to get a doctor.