Blog post

Aiding the fight back to lung health

The coronavirus is an attack on the respiratory system and those who contract it and recover may require further help to fully regain their health. Respiratory Physiologist Dr Mark Faghy, of the University of Derby, looks at the thinking and the interventions which are coming on stream to help those who suffer from a range of lung and breathing conditions.

By Professor Mark Faghy - 6 April 2020

In a time where the news and media outlets are dominated by the global pandemic COVID-19, the clear advice for those that are affected by acute and chronic respiratory illness is that they have been classified as a vulnerable group and must isolate themselves to reduce the chances of contracting the virus.

We see stories about the need to support, protect and care for the elderly on a daily basis, and we watch as communities pull together to support this vulnerable group. But is the concept of self-isolation occurring in these groups more common than we think?

Impact of interventions

There are approximately 12.7 million people in the UK (1 in 5 on average) that have a history of asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or another long-standing respiratory illness. Each has a persistent symptom profile that impacts their activities of daily life (their ability to do housework, visit the shops, etc.) and, more broadly, their quality of life.

Research has demonstrated that reduced quality of life in respiratory patients is associated with reductions in both physical and mental health, which, as a result, leads to reduced engagement with society.

While there is an array of pharmaceutical interventions that exist to manage and stabilise a patient's symptom profile, there is a consensus that exercise and non-medicinal interventions could also have a positive impact.

The Taskforce for Lung Health was established to increase the evidence and policy interventions to improve patient outcomes which is intertwined with the NHS Long-Term plan to improve respiratory health in the UK.

Part of the broader strategy is to increase the research and evidence base to support the use of non-medicinal interventions (i.e. technology and physical activity) and to understand the benefit to the patient and the broader health service.

Identifying determinants of recovery

Within the Human Science Research Centre at the University of Derby, we have been working on a series of projects in this area.

By applying our knowledge and skillset in clinical research, we have established a series of projects with both pneumonia and COPD patients.

Working closely with a network of academics and clinicians, we have investigated the determinants of recovery from pneumonia by following patients from discharge through to recovery and tracked the progression of their symptom profile alongside other determinants, such as the ability to complete physical and mental tasks.

Further to this, our work with patients from the Nottingham Respiratory Infections group has adapted a respiratory muscle training intervention, that has been long-established in sports groups, to identify if patients could experience similar benefits, such as increased strength of the breathing muscles, increased physical capacity and reduced breathlessness.

Working with industry

Although there is still more work needed to understand the bigger picture, the initial findings were extremely positive.

We work with industry partners to test the safety and benefits of a new technology with potential to improve outcomes in COPD patients.

One such partner, SoeHealth, has collected anecdotal evidence over a number of years which indicates increased energy levels, increased sleep quality and reduced symptoms.

We now have a team on a full clinical trial to outline the extent of the benefits, research that is supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

Other exciting and innovative projects are in the pipeline and are already being seen as potentially gamechanging for many people with lung health issues.

However, the impact of coronavirus suggests that this research has the potential to bring benefits to a far greater number of people than we could have possibly envisaged when our work began.

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About the author

Mark Faghy smiling

Professor Mark Faghy
Professor in Clinical Exercise Science

Mark is a Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology in the School of Human Sciences and an active researcher in the Human Science Research Centre.

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