Whenever there is a health scare like the recent COVID-19, the people who are most vulnerable are those who have compromised immune systems. Anyone with weak lungs from chronic illnesses such as COPD and asthma are particularly at risk.

What exactly is a compromised immune system?

Having a compromised immune system simply means that your body isn’t as good at fighting off disease as it could be. Immunocompromised people are much more susceptible to getting everything from the common cold to cancer.

There are many reasons a person’s immune system could be compromised, some permanent, some temporary. Sometimes, an immunodeficiency disorder can be so mild that a person may not even be aware that they have it. But, unfortunately, people with severe cases are sick so often that they can’t help but know something is wrong.

Lung infections, like COVID-19, are one of the most common types of infections that affect immunocompromised people.

Are there ways to strengthen your lungs?

While there is no way to reverse the damage already done to the lungs, there are exercises that can help people use their lungs to their best capacity.

Here are two helpful breathing exercises to improve lung function. (Please remember, you should always check with your doctor before trying any new breathing exercise, especially if you have a compromised immune system).

Pursed Lip Breathing: This breathing technique helps you focus, slow your breathing down and stay calm. It’s particularly helpful before or after exercise.

  • Breathe in through your nose for about 2 seconds.

  • Pucker your lips.

  • Breathe out very slowly through pursed-lips, two to three times longer than you breathed in.

  • Repeat.

Belly Breathing

  • Rest your hand or another lightweight object on your stomach.

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose to note how your stomach rises and falls when breathing.

  • Breathe out through your mouth.

  • Breathe in through your nose again, this time trying to get your stomach to go up more than it did with the previous breath.

  • Try to exhale for a much longer time than when you inhale, such as two to three times as long.

  • Periodically, roll your shoulders forward and backward and move your head side to side to ensure you are not building tension in your upper body.

Are there other things immunocompromised people can do to stay safe?

Although the risk for immunocompromised people is higher, the steps to stay healthy are similar. Wash hands, get plenty of rest, don’t touch your face, wipe down surfaces, and avoid crowds and people who are ill. High-quality air purifiers an also be a good way to keep your indoor air clean and virus free.

How can I help people in my community stay safe?

During an outbreak like COVID-19, people often reassure themselves by reminding each other that people with healthy immune systems generally aren’t in danger of dying from the disease. But… it’s important for all of us to remember that there are many people in our communities who are at risk. It is all of our responsibility to help protect them.

The best way to keep people with compromised immune systems (and all of us) safe is by limiting exposure. Stay home if you’re sick and, if you suspect you may have contracted COVID-19 or been around someone who has, contact your local health professional immediately.