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COVID-19 and Long-Term Lung Damage

July 23, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

There are various symptoms that can come along with COVID-19, ranging all the way from nothing to severe pneumonia. Most patients tend to get something that is somewhere in between and, thankfully, tend to have positive prognoses. Other patients get ill very quickly and sometimes die, and it can be hard to tell what type of person will have what type of outcome until it happens. While there is still a lot we don’t yet know about COVID-19, even less is known about the long-term health effects, even in people who seem to have fully recovered.

 

Lung Damage

 

One such long term effect that physicians are slowly learning about is damage that COVID-19 may cause to the lungs. One of the concerns with COVID-19 is that it causes a more severe type of pneumonia in some patients. Pneumonia itself is a disease that causes the lungs to fill with fluid and be inflamed, which can cause breathing problems. However, it seems that regular pneumonia occurs usually in one lung or starts out in one and then spreads to the other. With the pneumonia associated with COVID-19, however, pneumonia tends to happen right away in both lungs. This causes shortness of breath because air sacs in the lungs fill totally up with fluid, which leaves little room for the necessary oxygen to get in for the lungs to function.

Scarring

 

Another point of damage that COVID-19 can cause is scarring. While not generally a problem itself (the lungs adjust or can even attempt to heal), what can happen in severe cases is that the amount of scarring can be heavy. Not only that, scar tissue can grow at an accelerated rate.

If this happens, the scar tissue can function like a cancer and overtake the healthy tissue. This will then cause the lungs to not be able to function fully. If the oxygen we need to breathe can’t get to the lungs, then this can cause long-term shortness of breath that can range from mild to severe. Even more eye opening is the fact that some people who were asymptomatic but tested positive for COVID-19 were also found to have some kind of scar tissue in their lungs.

 

These discoveries add to the fear that there will be a percentage of people who will suffer from chronic, long-term respiratory issues that stem from the damage done to their lungs even after they’ve recovered from COVID-19. For those people who think that this is “just another flu,” have you ever heard of someone suffering lifelong complications like this from it? Most likely not.

 

COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that can cause long term damage to your lungs. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, or race, and it can take someone completely healthy and leave them with lasting respiratory illness. For the protection of yourself and others, it is important to follow local COVID-19 guidelines.

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