There’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects of the 2019 novel coronavirus. Although most people who contract COVID-19 are able to make a full recovery within a matter of weeks, there are some who experience lasting symptoms even after the virus is no longer in the body. Particularly, those with underlying lung or breathing issues may have persistent health problems long after their recovery from COVID-19.
Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19, what it does to the lungs and how it can leave lasting damages.
How COVID-19 Can Affect the Lungs
To better understand the long-term effects that COVID-19 can have on the lungs, it’s vital to know how the virus immediately affects the lungs in many who contract the disease. Most patients with COVID-19 have symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, which make it difficult to breathe. These include:
Coughing and congestion
Shortness of breath
Acute respiratory distress syndrome
Other more serious respiratory issues
In some cases, COVID-19 patients require the help of a respirator in order to get enough oxygen to the body. However, the severity of these respiratory symptoms depends on the individual’s age, health, and whether or not they have any underlying conditions.
Who Is Most at Risk for COVID-19?
According to the American Lung Association, people with chronic lung disease are in the high-risk category for severe illness and complications if they contract COVID-19 . In addition, adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) associated with COVID-19 has worse outcomes in older patients, as confirmed in The Lancet. These complications could include prolonged symptoms and long-term effects from the virus.
If you have any of these risk factors, it’s essential to take preventative measures to avoid contracting COVID-19. The effects of the virus can result in lung damage that may last much longer than the actual disease.
Lasting Lung Damage From COVID-19
Researchers at Swansea University in Wales recently published an article  describing how the lungs can sustain long-term damage from COVID-19. They confirmed that some individuals could suffer from the following issues after contracting the virus, causing significant lung and breathing problems in the future:
Clotting of blood vessels in the lungs
Developing of pulmonary fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis is a stiffening of the lungs due to scar tissue. Once the cells in the lungs are infected with COVID-19, some people have immune systems that respond with increased blood clotting and replacing damaged cells with scar tissue. Scar tissue can be very thick and stiff, leading to decreased lung function and difficulty breathing.
Because long-term studies on COVID-19 patients are not yet available, researchers looked at other similar coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), to make comparative predictions oh how COVID-19 may similarly affect patients and their lung health. Studies confirmed that SARS did cause pulmonary fibrosis in many patients, and both SARS and MERS patients had weakened lung function even six months after recovery, according to the Swansea article.
However, an early study of COVID-19 patients has shown that those who contracted the virus generally recover from problematic lung symptoms within the first few weeks of recovery . The bottom line is that it’s still too early to know whether or not lasting lung damage will result from COVID-19. Until there are long-term scientific studies on COVID-19 patients, doctors can only predict these lasting effects based on data that is available now.
Improving Overall Lung Health
The best way to combat future lung problems or any issues you may encounter by becoming infected by COVID-19 is to make sure your lungs are healthy and strong now. There are several ways you can improve your lung function and reduce your risk of developing lung disease.
Exercise. First, try to exercise your lungs with cardiovascular activity. By increasing your heart rate through movement, your lungs will need to pull in more oxygen and expand to their full capacity to keep up. This type of activity will strengthen your lungs and keep them at peak performance.
Quit smoking. Second, quit smoking and avoid environmental pollutants, such as excessive dust or allergens, which can irritate the lungs. You want to avoid having toxins and tar building up in your lungs as much as possible.
Deep breathing. Third, practice deep breathing. Consciously taking deep breaths will help to expand your lungs and take in more oxygen. Increasing your lung capacity is one of the best ways to keep your lungs, along with the rest of your body, healthy and happy.
Preventative lung scan. Lastly, it’s important to consider preventative scans to know the status of your lung health right now. A low-dose lung CT scan is a quick and painless way to check the health of your lungs, so you know where you stand. You may be able to catch issues early before they become major problems and treat them much more successfully.
Lung Scans at Preventative Diagnostic Center
Preventative Diagnostic Center in Las Vegas offers affordable and accessible ways to take control of your health with low-dose CT scans. Take the first step to making your lung health a priority during this unprecedented time by scheduling a preventative lung scan at our office. The scan itself only takes minutes and you’ll receive a comprehensive radiology report once the scan is complete. To learn more or to schedule your lung scan, call our office today to get started.
Dr. John J. Pierce is the Medical Director at Preventative Diagnostic Center. He is Board-certified in Emergency Medicine as well as Board-certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He received his medical training from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, in Pomona California. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to his regular practice, Dr. Pierce serves as a Tactical Physician with the Las Vegas SWAT team.