Holding breath may increase risk of getting Covid-19: IIT researchers

The IIT Madras research team imitated the droplet dynamics in the lung by studying the movement of droplets in the small capillaries which were of a diameter similar to bronchioles | File photo
IIT Madras Researchers have found that holding breath may increase the risk of getting Covid-19 infection. They found that the transportation of virus-laden droplets deep into the lungs increases with decreasing breathing frequency.

The research team modelled the breathing frequency in a laboratory and found that low breathing frequency increases the time of residence of the virus thereby increasing the chances of deposition and consequently the infection. Also, the multiscale lung structure has a significant effect on a person’s susceptibility to Covid-19.

The research was led by Professor Mahesh Panchagnula, Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT Madras, with his research scholars Arnab Kumar Mallik and Soumalya Mukherjee, IIT Madras. The findings of this study were published in the international reputed peer-reviewed journal Physics of Fluids.

Panchagnula said, “Covid-19 (the disease caused by Coronavirus) has opened a gap in our understanding of deep pulmonological systemic diseases. Our study unravels the mystery behind how particles are transported and deposited in the deep lung. The study demonstrates the physical process by which aerosol particles are transported into the deep generations of the lung.”

His team worked to gain a deeper understanding of how the rate of flow of droplets laden with virus determines the deposition of the virus in the lungs. In their research, the team reported that holding the breath and having low breathing rate can increase chances of virus deposition in the lungs. The study was conducted to pave the way for developing better therapies and drugs for respiratory infections. Earlier work from the group has also highlighted the significant variability in aerosol uptake from individual to individual, suggesting a reason why some people are more susceptible to airborne diseases than others.

According to a release issued by IIT, airborne infections such as Coronavirus spread through sneezing and coughing as these events instantly release a lot of tiny droplets. 

The IIT Madras research team imitated the droplet dynamics in the lung by studying the movement of droplets in the small capillaries which were of a diameter similar to bronchioles. They took water mixed with fluorescent particles and generated aerosols from this liquid using a nebuliser. These fluorescent aerosols were used to track the movement and deposition of particles in the capillaries.

The researchers studied the movement of the fluorescent aerosol particles in capillaries of size ranging from 0.3 to 2 millimetres which covers the range of bronchiole diameters. They found that the deposition is inversely proportional to the aspect ratio of capillaries, which suggests that the droplets are likely to deposit in longer bronchioles.

The scientists also studied how the ‘Reynolds Number,’ a parameter that quantifies the nature of flow - steady or turbulent, determines the deposition in the capillaries. They found that when the flow of aerosol movement is steady the particles deposit via the process of diffusion, however, if the flow is turbulent, particles deposit via the process of impaction, scientists said in the  release.

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