2020-04-16 17:12
by Tanja Walbrunn
  Last edited: 2020-06-19 11:04

Corona everywhere? Take a deep breath!

Don’t panic and take a deep breath!
Don’t panic and take a deep breath! (Pic.: © kegfire - stock.adobe.com)

Welcome to the 300th article that you read on Corona. Meanwhile, we have all turned to hobby virologists and every new article ever published on the matter. Really? How much do we actually know?

In fact, politics and all advising institutions are pretty much running on sight these days. If measures were drawn much too late and cost lives or if they were overdone and cost economic existence will be clear only from a retrospective.

Be sure we want to spare you the statistics of likeliness to fall ill and the fatality rate in your age group, because we simply lack the data for it. Let’s focus on what we know: in severe and critical cases, not only the upper airways are affected, but also the lungs.

What does our lung actually do, apart from breathing?

What do we know about our lung, besides its function for breathing? One of the few experts on the matter is Prof. Michael Schloter of Helmholtz Zentrum Munich, German Research Center for Environmental Health. In an interview published in April 2019 he summarizes the current state of science:

Our lung is the first barrier that inhaled viruses, bacteria and other substances have to pass on their way into our body. Conclusively, not everything we inhale necessarily enters our system, but there is in fact a chance of fighting things off. The lung’s defense strength is best when it is occupied with an intact microbiome, which is predominantly comprised of Prevotella bacteria. If the bacteria have a function and what it might be, is still unclear, but what we do know is that entering microbes are more successfully pushed back where there are already microbes dwelling. And we do know that the bacteria in our lung microbiome are fostering our immune system.

(Please find the detailed summary of the interview here: Scientists take the so far almost unexplored lung microbiome into focus.)

Can we do any good to our lung?

There is a number of things we can do to support our lung in its defense work. No smoking, to start with the obvious. Good news for non-smokers and all that ponder around quitting. But smoking is just one thing.

Fine dust is an issue that is generally underestimated. Nano particles from cars and factories’ emissions weigh heavy on our lungs. Depending on where you live, the fine dust pollution is more or less critical in your area. Globally speaking, mega-cities like Peking, Delhi, Mexico-City or Sao Paulo, are among the most polluted cities. In pictures from China, we got used to seeing people wearing masks. This is not only a precautionary measure to prevent viruses from spreading, but above all a precautionary measure against inhaling highly polluted air.

But also, our private homes are key to more or less fine dust pollution in our lives. Heating, for example, is a huge matter. Wood-fired ovens cause more fine dust than the entire car industry – this was the headline of an article in the GEO magazine, published in November 2018 (german-article). So, this is a good time to check your heating at home and maybe renew it when you are the owner of a wood-fired oven. And now that the days turn longer and warmer, anyway, it can do no harm to turn the oven off during the upcoming corona-intense weeks.

A smaller issue, but also easier to get rid of, are the many little bits and pieces sitting around our living rooms emitting smells, like incense sticks, scented candles, and the likes. Also, air humidifiers, especially with fragrances, often do more harm than good. A too high concentration of humidity in the air also fosters dust mites and mold and their feces or spores impact our lungs negatively and in a way that the increased humidity cannot outperform.

Health from within – isn’t that a bit simple?

It is clear that not every person living in a city with high pollution rates has a cabin by the sea to retreat to during the corona peak weeks, which is not allowed now anyways. It is also clear that we cannot give a halt to car and factory emissions from one day to the next (although the current shutdown brings at least a little improvement in air quality).

Also, patients with pre-existing conditions will not turn into an easy case just by getting rid of their scented candles. We are aiming at the hundreds of thousands of patients that will have to cure a more or less mild case of corona in their homes and will be greatful for any relieve. Small improvements of the daily routine can take away pressure from the lung and maybe are the last straw that keeps you from getting a severe case.

What next?

There is one more thing you can do. Training your lung has proved helpful. Exercise or quick walks are allowed in most countries and people are even encouraged to do so – and that is for a good reason. Fresh air is good for your lungs (and for your mental stability, by the way). Yoga at home aims at breathing techniques. Skip a rope, dance, do everything that stimulates your cardiovascular system. And for all remaining couch potatoes we want to finish with some advice with astonishing effect: Laugh and sing! Loud and from the bottom of your heart.

So: don’t panic and take a deep breath!

Lisa Keilhofer
Lisa Keilhofer
Author

Lisa Keilhofer studied at the University of Regensburg. She works in internationalization and as a freelance editor.

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