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Managing lung problems

While recovering from COVID-19, you might find you have a few issues with your lungs, including breathlessness.

On this page:

I need to clear my lungs 

While recovering from coronavirus, you may find that you need to clear your lungs quite a lot. You might have a wet cough, which produces sputum.

You might also find that your breathing is noisier than usual and, if you’ve had a chest infection, that you become short of breath fairly easily.

It’s important to clear your lungs when you need to, as this will help you:

  • breathe more easily while doing your everyday activities
  • reduce the chance of keep getting chest infections
  • reduce the chances of coughing fits.

You need to clear your lungs regularly (possibly 2 or 3 times a day). Don’t wait until you feel you need to.

Breathing exercises are a great way to help clear your lungs. Techniques you can try include:

  • deep breathing
  • breath stacking
  • active cycle of breathing
  • diaphragmatic breathing – also known as relaxed breathing.

You can read more about breathing techniques to help clear your lungs on the Lancashire Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust website.

Read more about diaphragmatic breathing, or relaxed breathing, on the Physiotherapy for Breathing Pattern Disorders website, where you download a free leaflet on Post Covid Syndrome breathing.

I’m breathless 

While recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you regularly get breathless. This might happen when going for a walk, carrying your shopping or going up or down the stairs.

It's natural to feel anxious or scared when this happens, but there are a few ways you can manage your breathlessness.

Practising breathing control and breathing techniques can help you prepare for these situations. Finding a position to help you recover from breathlessness can also be helpful, as this will help control your breathing. It will also help you relax. Remember: seek help urgently if you become unusually breathless or your breathing gets worse.

We have a series of breathlessness videos demonstrating some positions and techniques that can help when you’re breathless, which you might find useful.

You might also find it useful to watch videos from the Physiotherapy for Breathing Pattern Disorders website on assessing your breathing pattern. There’s also a series of breathing guides for when sitting, standing or lying down.

If your breathing isn’t improving, or seems to be getting worse, contact your GP or specialist team.

Read more on how to manage breathlessness.

If you’re living with any other ongoing symptoms of COVID-19, or want help with issues related to other areas of your life, you might find My Long COVID Needs helpful. This is an assessment tool that prioritises the needs you might have while living with the longer-term symptoms of COVID-19, letting you know what you should do next and the help you’re entitled to. It can direct you to advice and support for issues such as work, caring responsibilities, mental health and many other areas.

Are you having trouble managing your Long COVID breathlessness?

We’re starting a support group for people who have breathlessness as a result of Long COVID, in partnership with Covid Aid.

You’ll learn how to manage and reduce your breathlessness, alongside talks from our nurses on how to speak to your GP about Long COVID. Our health care advisors can also help you work out which benefits you’re entitled to and how to claim them.

We’ll let you know as soon as we have confirmed the dates. Register your interest here

I need to use oxygen at home

If you were treated for COVID-19 in hospital, you may have been discharged with oxygen, to use at home. You might need oxygen all day, with a few short breaks, or you might just need it for activities such as washing, dressing and other daily activities.

Most people who need to use oxygen at home continue to lead a normal life, doing the things they like. However, if you have any worries, speak to your GP or other health care professional.

The NHS has more information on managing your oxygen at home on the Your Covid Recovery website.

I can’t eat or drink easily 

While you’re recovering, you might find that you have less of an appetite than usual. You might also have difficulty swallowing, which could affect how much food and drink you’re able to have.

To get your appetite and weight back to normal, you could:

  • use a smaller plate or bowl, so meals feel more manageable
  • allow more time for eating, as you might need to eat at a slower pace
  • make sure that you are in a comfortable, upright position to eat.

There’s more advice on eating well to recover from COVID-19 in the recovery guide from the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

I have chest pain

Chest pain is a common symptom that people experience while recovering from coronavirus. However, it’s possible that your chest pain could be caused by something not related to coronavirus, so it’s important to get medical advice if your chest pain is new.

One of the causes of chest pain or discomfort can be a poor breathing pattern. Make sure you are breathing normally and not moving the upper part of your chest excessively while you are resting. Watching this video on how to assess your breathing might be useful.

It's also important not to ignore chest pain that’s brought on by physical exertion, which then gets better when you rest. This could be angina.

When should I get urgent medical attention for chest pain?

You should phone 999 if you:

  • get sudden chest pain that lasts for more than 15 minutes
  • get sudden chest pain at the same time as feeling or being sick, sweating, or shortness of breath
  • get sudden chest pain and lose consciousness.

You can read more about chest pain while recovering from coronavirus on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

I have lasting lung damage

Most people will make a full recovery from coronavirus. However, living with the after-effects can cause more longer-term complications for some people, many of which involve the lungs.

Lung complications from COVID-19 can include:

  • pneumonia
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • sepsis.

Your risk of lung damage from COVID-19, as well as how likely you are to recover and regain lung function, can be affected by:

  • how severe your COVID-19 infection was – milder cases are less likely to cause lasting scars on your lungs
  • existing health conditions – some conditions can increase your risk of getting worse COVID-19 symptoms. These include COPD and heart disease.
  • age - older people can be more at risk of severe COVID, as their immune system and lungs may be weaker.
  • treatment – what care you get and how quickly you receive it can affect your chances of getting lung damage. This is why it’s vital that patients who are very ill with COVID-19 get the right help quickly.

Next: Managing a cough


We’ve developed this information with funding from Garfield Weston Foundation. The Foundation had no influence on the information, which was developed in line with our usual Asthma + Lung UK information production process.

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.