Haims: Don’t wait for your breath to become labored

This article was first printed in the Vail Daily on March 30, 2020.

This past Saturday, within a very short period of time, a candlelight vigil was put together to support a local Eagle family grieving with the loss of a loved one. Through a Zoom meeting, over 500 people participated in a candlelight vigil.

While it was an emotional and heart-wrenching event, it was very uplifting. The inability to hug, show support, and be in person with anyone at a time of grief and loss can cause much strife.

But, through the support of an amazing group of friends and community members, a great outpouring of support was shown. Friends shared stories and offered condolences in the best way possible during this time of social distancing and isolation.

During this time of isolation and quarantine, how do we stay connected with each other? And, what new information should we know?

What we can do is make use of social media technologies. Zoom is one such technology that has boomed recently. It is very easy to use and enables very large groups to get together visually. During these times where we are experiencing a collapse in our social connections, social media may be great tools to regain some semblance of personal connecting. For those with family far away, consider hosting a family video session and share stories, memories, and laugh. For those missing their friends, maybe a virtual happy hour may offer a sense of connection.

Educational information about coronavirus is everywhere — 24/7. While much of the information out there about washing hands, and not touching your face is great, I am concerned about the public being told that for those who may be ill or have confirmation they have COVID-19 to stay at home.

According to Dr. Andrew Schroeder, past clinical chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and it is progressively getting worse, pick up the phone and call your medical provider.

Dr. Schroeder has provided the following tips:

  • Stay hydrated, this will help your mucus stay thin so it can wash away things you inhale.
  • Exercise, it cleans out your lungs — literally.
  • Zinc lozenges protect your respiratory cells. If you feel feverish or develop a cough please suck on them throughout the day.
  • Avoid anti-inflammatory drugs such as Aleve (naproxen) or Advil (ibuprofen). Ibuprofen increases an enzyme that helps COVID-19 viral particles bind to respiratory cells. Use Tylenol for now.
Shortness of breath is a major concern for those with COVID-19. Dr. Robert Goldberg and his partners at St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare Pulmonology in Orange County, California, have been paying great attention to, and educating staff about, concerns and indicators of a syndrome called a cytokine storm.

According to Dr. Goldberg, a cytokine storm occurs when an overactive immune response wreaks havoc on healthy lung tissue which leads to acute respiratory distress and multi-organ failure. Unfortunately, without being identified quickly, a cytokine storm syndrome is frequently fatal.

Emerging studies from China and clinical observations at hospitals in Washington indicate that many of the people who have died from COVID-19 have done so not because of the virus itself rather, because their immune system may have been unable to overcome a cytokine storm.

Chris Lindley at Vail Health and Dr. Bock from Colorado Mountain Medical made a video on Monday that addresses respiratory concerns.

If you experience shortness of breath, you need to be concerned. Contrary to information recently found on the web, holding your breath for 10 seconds is inaccurate and not a proven self-test for complications of COVID-19. If you believe you have COVID-19, you may want to consider purchasing a pulse oximeter.

A pulse oximeter is an inexpensive tool that attaches to your finger. It sends wavelengths of light through your finger which measures your pulse rate and how much oxygen (oxygen saturation) of the blood is in your system.

Because we live at altitude, you should be concerned if your oxygen saturation levels fall below your “normal” level for a duration of time.  According to the American Thoracic Society, “Most people need an oxygen saturation level of at least 89% to keep their cells healthy.” For many people, a pulse oximeter reading of under 80% should be a considerable concern.

Do not wait until you are experiencing labored breathing before you contact your medical provider. Timing is of great importance.

Let’s stay connected as best we can. Regardless if you’re old school and write a letter, use email, social media, or sit outside and visit with friends at a safe distance, we can make the best of our current situation.

I am not a doctor and I do not want to convey inaccurate advice, but if you are not feeling well and are experiencing shortness of breath or labored breathing, please be very proactive in consulting with your medical provider.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be contacted at www.visitingangels.com/comtns or by phone at 970-328-5526.