COVID-19 Explanations: Why Ventilators Can Be Deadly in Treating the Coronavirus

by Noach Nestor Bittelman, LAc

Let’s start this brief explanatory paper with a couple of basic medical facts which are always true, but which are particularly relevant and applicable to COVID-19:

  1. Proper and effective COVID-19 treatments must be based on a correct understanding of the illness, the mechanisms at play, and the typical course this Coronavirus takes.

  2. Treatments based on a faulty or incomplete understanding of the illness can cause serious harm to the patient, and may even be deadly.

Now to the ventilator issue. The use of ventilators with COVID-19 patients is proving in many cases to be a tool of death. Regardless of the media and governmental frenzy about having enough ventilators on hand for COVID-19 patient needs, information is now starting to come out of medical centers in the West that ventilators may be doing more harm than good.

An April 9, 2020 Associated Press report dramatically illustrates this fact:

“Generally speaking, 40 - 50% of patients with severe respiratory distress die while on ventilators, experts say. But 80% or more of coronavirus patients placed on the machines in New York City have died, state and city officials say. Higher-than-normal death rates also have been reported elsewhere in the US, said Dr. Albert Rizzo, the American Lung Association’s chief medical officer. Similar reports have emerged from China and the United Kingdom. One UK report put the figure at 66%. A very small study in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the disease first emerged, said 86% died.” (emphasis mine)

The AP report goes on to discuss a hypothesis or two about why this terrible consequence may be happening, but it is clear from the discussion that no one understands the mechanism at play.

Fortunately, Chinese Medicine is able to provide a clear, concise, evidence-based understanding of why the use of ventilators with COVID-19 patients can lead to such an increased death rate.

The typical progression of the disease involves a few major factors. We can call them fever, cough, fluid, and respiratory distress. The current Coronavirus first brings about cold or flu symptoms in the infected person—body aches, maybe a slight fever, alternating fever and chills, a cough. If the illness is not arrested at this stage, the virus goes on to rapidly debilitate the immune system; at the same time there is often a significant buildup of fluid and phlegm in the lungs.

The interaction of the virus, the underlying body condition, and the body’s defensive forces may create heat, which can lead to the fluid in the lungs becoming thick, sticky, and viscous (think of a soup cooking on the stove: the heat from the stove causes the water to steam off causing the soup to thicken the longer it cooks). This very viscous phlegm brings about an incessant cough, which is an attempt by the body to expel the phlegm and fluid which are impairing the breathing.

This is one of the two major problems brought on by the current Coronavirus — the patient’s breathing becomes distressed by extremely viscous phlegm. When this phlegm goes deep into the lungs it clogs the alveoli, the tiny sacs located at the end of the lungs where the lungs and the blood exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The clogged alveoli can no longer transfer oxygen to the blood, and the organs and tissues of the body start to fail as a result of oxygen starvation. Both CT scans on COVID-19 patients and autopsies performed by the Chinese on victims of COVID-19 showed lungs filled with fluid, viscous phlegm, and “ground-glass opacities” (which is also considered to be phlegm in Chinese Medicine).

When someone suffering from COVID-19 is put on a ventilator, three major events take place:

  1. The patient’s ability to cough, loosen, or expel the phlegm is significantly impaired.

  2. The patient is usually sedated, further limiting the lungs ability to shake loose the phlegm and fluids which are suffocating the alveoli.

  3. The high pressure from the ventilator pushes the sticky, viscous phlegm deeper into the lungs, bringing about a greater clogging and obstruction of the alveoli.

Together, these three factors lead to the rapid demise of the COVID-19 patient from organ and tissue oxygen starvation.

(This article is focused on only one piece of an accurate COVID-19 diagnosis from a Chinese Medicine perspective, and how an inaccurate diagnosis has potential to lead to disaster. It is not a comprehensive analysis, nor is it a discussion of treatment strategies. Nonetheless it is worthwhile to note that a successful COVID-19 treatment strategy would include methods to clear fluids from the lungs and to liquefy, transform, and expel phlegm. This treatment strategy, as a part of a more comprehensive herbal treatment approach, has been widely used by Chinese Medicine doctors in China to very good effect.)

The author would like to thank Dr. Young Wei Chieh and Dr. Zhang Bo Li for their contributions to his understanding of COVID-19 pathology.

Noach is a direct lineage disciple of Master Young Wei Chieh, who himself is a direct lineage disciple of Master Tung Ching-Ch'ang and the foremost authority in the world on Master Tung Acupuncture. Noach studied Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture in Taiwan and has run a practice in California and Israel for over 30 years. He is fluent in Chinese, Hebrew, Spanish and English and teaches courses in Master Tung Acupuncture internationally. He can be reached at