Question & Answer

Can holding your breath for ten seconds reveal if you have COVID-19 (coronavirus disease)?

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  • In March 2020, claims were circulated on social media that being unable to hold one’s breath for ten seconds, without coughing, was a sign of fibrosis of the lungs and a way of diagnosing COVID-19. The claims were attributed to several sources including a Japanese doctor and Taiwanese experts.
  • We did not find any studies suggesting that being unable to hold one’s breath for ten seconds without coughing indicates that you have or do not have COVID-19. Some claims suggested that being unable to hold your breath for ten seconds without coughing is a sign of fibrosis of the lungs – a disease involving the build-up of scar tissue in the alveoli (i.e. air sacs). However, holding your breath does not reveal the presence of fibrosis and fibrosis appears to be uncommon in cases of COVID-19 (Han et al., 2020) – studies suggest that, when present, it is only present in some of those who have developed pneumonia (Diao et al., 2020).
  • The World Health Organisation has refuted this claim and has emphasised that the only way of revealing whether a person has COVID-19 is to follow the established testing procedures.

Things to Remember

  • Remember, personal experiences or anecdotes (stories) are, by themselves, an unreliable basis for assessing the effects of an intervention
  • Opinions alone are not a reliable basis for claims about the effects of treatments.
  • Whenever possible, use up-to-date careful summaries (systematic reviews) of fair comparisons to inform decisions.


  • Drafted by: Dr Chris Noone, School of Psychology, NUI Galway
  • Reviewed by: Prof Declan Devane, Professor of Midwifery, Deputy Dean, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Scientific Director, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, Director of Evidence Synthesis Ireland & Cochrane Ireland
  • Evidence Advisor: Prof Liam Glynn, Graduate Entry Medical, University of Limerick, Chair of the North Clare Primary Care Team and GP, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare
  • Evidence Advisor: Deirdre Mac Loughlin, PPI Ignite, NUI Galway
  • Evidence Advisor: Dr Claire O’Connell, Journalist, Contributor, The Irish Times.