Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can have a potentially serious effect on your lungs. While some people can experience shortness of breath, others can develop pneumonia or a life-threatening condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome.

If you’ve developed COVID-19 and have Difficult breathing, you may need supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

If you have developed COVID-19, you may wonder if a continuous positive airway pressure machine would be useful. This is a device that is used for people with sleep disorders.

People who have or are recovering from mild-to-moderate COVID-19 are not able to use a CPAP machine at home.

While the use of CPAP machines in hospital settings is a way to manage severe hypoxia from COVID-19, research shows that conventional oxygen therapy is just as effective and easier to deliver.

This article explains why a CPAP machine is not particularly helpful for people with COVID-19.

A machine that delivers air pressure into your airway helps to keep it open.

A CPAP machine has a few basic parts.

  • a mask that covers your nose and mouth
  • straps that help to secure the mask in place
  • a tube that connects the mask to a motor
  • a motor that works to supply air to the tube and mask

One of the common uses of a CPAP machine that you may be familiar with is for the treatment of sleep apnea. In sleep apnea, your airways become blocked during sleep, which can lower or stop your airflow. This is called an apnea episode.

The constant air pressure provided by the machine helps to prop your airway open while you sleep, lowering the risk of apnea episodes or eliminating them completely. One of the first-line treatments for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine.

CPAP machines may also be used in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In this setting, they can help to treat preterm infants who have underdeveloped lungs.

What’s the difference between a CPAP machine and a ventilator?

A mechanical ventilator is a device that works to move air in and out of your lungs. Simply put, it helps to do the work of your diaphragm and other muscles that help you breathe.

The amount of air pressure that a ventilator provides can be adjusted according to your individual needs.

“A machine that provides constant positive pressure is called a CPAP machine. This helps you to breathe, but it doesn’t help you with the breathing task like a mechanical ventilator does.”

Research into CPAP machines to treat COVID-19 is limited to individuals hospitalized with serious illnesses, often in intensive care units (ICUs). In these settings, CPAP machines were used as a way to manage low oxygen levels and keep people off mechanical ventilators, similar to oxygen therapy.

One study found that for people experiencing life-threatening respiratory failure from COVID-19, a CPAP machine was beneficial during the first days of hospital admission, but only for infections that cleared within 7 days. For longer hospitalizations, use of a CPAP machine was associated with an increased risk of death.

Another study compared the use of a CPAP machine versus oxygen therapy in people with COVID-19 who were deemed not likely to benefit from mechanical ventilation. The study found little benefit of a CPAP machine over oxygen in terms of clinical outcomes, and the use of a CPAP machine was more challenging.

A third study looked at CPAP machines as a way to keep people admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 off mechanical ventilation. CPAP machines were used on a continuous basis until stable improvement in oxygenation, until intubation, or until death. Of the 53 people on a CPAP machine: 12 avoided intubation, 13 were intubated, and 19 died.

There is no evidence to support using a CPAP machine for the treatment of COVID-19 in home settings.

Bottom line

The strategy of using a CPAP machine to manage oxygen levels in people with COVID-19 was more difficult to use than conventional oxygen therapy.

There are two methods that doctors and healthcare professionals can use to help people with COVID-19 breathe. Supplemental oxygen therapy and mechanical ventilation are what these are.

Supplemental oxygen therapy

Supplemental oxygen therapy focuses on providing your body with extra oxygen. This is typically given through a face mask or a nasal cannula, which consists of two prongs that clip onto your nose.

“High-flow oxygen therapy is a form of supplemental oxygen therapy that uses air and oxygen at a higher rate. The air is humid so that it doesn’t dry out the airways.”

If you develop more severe respiratory failure, high-flow oxygen therapy can be beneficial.

Mechanical ventilation

As we mentioned earlier, mechanical ventilation helps you to breathe when you’re unable to do so on your own. It works to move air and oxygen into your lungs while helping to remove carbon dioxide.

Most people who are on a ventilator are in the ICU. Equipment will monitor vital signs such as respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate in these individuals.

When you go on a ventilator, an endotracheal tube is placed into your windpipe in order to deliver the air. A sedative is also often given. Eating isn’t possible due to the endotracheal tube, so nutrition is given via a feeding tube.

If you’ve had COVID-19, your lungs may need some time to recover. During this period, you may find that you have lingering shortness of breath, particularly when you exert yourself.

A 2020 review article notes the importance of breathing exercises as a part of COVID-19 recovery. Here are some breathing exercises that you might try:

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing from your belly as opposed to your chest. It helps to improve breathing and strengthen your diaphragm. To do diaphragmatic breathing:

  1. Place your hands on your stomach.
  2. You can breathe through your nose. You should feel the stomach expand as you do this.
  3. You can breathe out through your mouth. Breathing out should last two to three times longer than breathing in. As you exhale, you should feel your stomach move back in.
  4. For about 1 minute, repeat the exercise.

Additionally, experts from Johns Hopkins University recommend doing your diaphragmatic breathing exercises in phases based off of your individual capabilities.

They suggest starting by doing your breathing exercises on your back. It is recommended to try them on your stomach, then sitting and then standing.

Yawn to smile

This exercise improves coordination and upper body strength. To do it.

  1. On the edge of a chair, sit up straight.
  2. You reach your arms over your head.
  3. As you smile, bring your arms back down to your sides.
  4. For about 1 minute, repeat the exercise.

Humming while exhaling

This exercise works by helping the blood vessels in your body to widen, allowing more oxygen to flow to the organs and tissues of your body. Humming is also a relaxing sound, so it may also help to ease feelings of anxiety. To do this exercise:

  1. Put your hands on your stomach while sitting on the edge of a chair.
  2. You can breathe through your nose. Try to breathe as you practice, feeling your stomach expand as you inhale.
  3. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose.
  4. For about 1 minute, repeat the exercise.

Things to know and precautions

Recovery from COVID-19 takes time. It is important to push yourself a little, but not to over exert yourself. If you feel fatigued or out of breath after doing certain exercises, stop doing them and try again later.

It is possible that a doctor may recommend other types of breathing exercises. If so, be careful with their instructions.

If your breathing becomes less than optimal, contact a doctor. If you have a problem with breathing, call the emergency services.

“If you are hospitalized with severe COVID-19, early treatment with a CPAP machine may be beneficial. There isn’t enough evidence to support the use of a CPAP machine.”

If you have had COVID-19, you may have a problem with your lungs. Breathing exercises can help improve your lungs. Ask your doctor about other methods that can help you improve your breathing.