How to Keep Your Lungs Strong for COVID-19
An offense is the best defense for maintaining your lung health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this unprecedented time, it is important to not only stay home and work safely whenever and wherever possible, but it is also critically important to keep your lungs and immune system healthy to improve your body’s ability to fight off infection or illness.
We know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease obstructs respiratory pathways with very thick mucus. In order for medicines and treatments to work, the airways must be open and unblocked. This takes a number of days.
In order to actively fight off any viral infection, including this one, the best offense is healthy lungs.
Here are some proactive steps you can take to optimize your pulmonary health.
It may not be top of mind, but proper hydration keeps your lungs lubricated so that irritants and mucus thin out. The rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water. Example: a 150-pound woman should be drinking 75 ounces of water (9 cups of water per day).
Food choices are very important for lung and immune system health. There are many foods that assist the body with decreasing inflammation in the airways. You’ll want foods high in vitamins and antioxidants like fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 rich choices. They include apples, wild salmon, green tea and black coffee, raw seeds and nuts, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, oranges and orange vegetables like pumpkin, and garlic.
Increasing your airflow with physical activity improves the flow of oxygen in your bloodstream that then increases airflow to your muscles, heart, and lungs. 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times per week is recommended to benefit lung health.
Reduced Exposure to Pollution, Allergens, and Irritants
The more irritated your lungs are by external sources, the more inflamed they get. As much as you can, reduce your exposure to aerosols and sprays like cleaners and hairsprays, pollens, and smokey environments.
Cigarette, cigar, marijuana and vaping smoke, should be avoided at all times. Not only can smoking cause lung cancer but inhaling anything other than air into your lungs causes them to become inflamed. Inflammation causes mucus build-up which impacts the lung’s ability to move oxygen into your bloodstream. In addition, tobacco and vape smoke can include dozens of chemicals and carbon monoxide displacing the oxygen in your lungs.
To best protect your lungs, it is crucial to protect your teeth, gums, and tongue. Brush and floss twice per day to prevent the buildup of plaque and potential infections in your mouth. These could migrate from your mouth into your lungs, compromising their ability to function properly.
Vaccinate for Flu
Since the flu can seriously compromise your pulmonary health, it is important to avoid getting the flu so that you have the best ability to fight off any other viral or bacterial infection. Until there is a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the best you can do for your health is to get the flu vaccine, if you are eligible.
One of the best ways to protect your lungs and prevent infection is to not contaminate your eyes, nose, or mouth with pathogens that live on surfaces. Washing hands with soap and running water are the most effective way of doing this. Rule of thumb is to sing the happy birthday song to yourself twice. If soap and running water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer and rub it vigorously into all areas of your hands and fingers.
Knock Out a Sore Throat
If you do have a sore or scratchy throat, it is important to soothe it so that throat irritation doesn’t migrate down to the lungs. Drink warm liquids like water with a squeeze of lemon, a dash of apple cider vinegar, or sprinkle of Himalayan sea salt, along with green tea, matcha, weak black coffee, or another elixir. Warm liquids not only soothe the throat, but they also increase hydration and the flow of gastric juices in the stomach, helping reduce inflammation.
Right now, it is important to heed the advice of public health experts and remain home, avoiding crowds as much as possible. If you must go to work (essential service workers), try to stay at least 6 feet from other people and avoid touching surfaces. Do not touch your face or hair, and wash hands frequently. The reason social distancing works is because it reduces the transmission of any potential pathogen, including SARS-CoV-2. Viruses are fragile and don’t typically fare very well in the environment, so the further you can distance yourself from pathogens and contaminants, the better.
If you have minor symptoms, know that it is fine to treat them with over the counter medicines that address specific symptoms, such as cough, headache, sore throat, fever, etc.
All of these steps are ones you can take today—and every day—to keep your lungs and your body healthy.
Learn more about infection control in the workplace.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Allergy and Immunology
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences