Covid disease can cause permanent lung damage – 3 ways breathing can suffer

Although they may have survived the most life-threatening stages of their illness, they have not yet returned to their pre-COVID-19 baseline, experiencing activities ranging from strenuous exercise to doing laundry.

These persistent effects, called COVID prolongation, have affected up to 1 in 5 American adults diagnosed with COVID-19. The prolonged COVID illness includes a wide range of symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, cough and shortness of breath.

These symptoms can result from damage or malfunction of multiple organ systems, and understanding the causes of prolonged COVID is a focus of special research for the Biden Harris administration.

Not all breathing problems are related to the lungs, but in many cases the lungs are affected. Looking at the basic functions of the lungs and how they may be affected by disease may help clarify what looms for some patients after contracting COVID-19 infection.

Lung function is normal

The main function of the lungs is to bring oxygen-rich air into the body and expel carbon dioxide. When air flows into the lungs, it approaches the blood, where oxygen diffuses into the body and carbon dioxide diffuses.

This process, as simple as it sounds, requires exceptional coordination of airflow, ventilation, blood flow, or perfusion.

There are more than 20 divisions in the airway, from the main trachea, or trachea, to the tiny balloons at the end of the airway, called alveoli, which are in close contact with blood vessels.

By the time the oxygen molecule reaches the end of the airway, about 300 million of these tiny alveoli can end up, with a total area of ​​more than 1,000 square feet (100 square meters) where gas exchange occurs.

Matching ventilation and perfusion rates is critical to basic lung function, and damage anywhere along the airway can make breathing difficult in many ways.

Obstruction – reduced air flow

One form of lung disease is obstruction of air flow in and out of the body.

Two common causes of impairment like these are COPD and asthma.

In these diseases, the airways narrow either due to damage from smoking, as is common in COPD, or from allergic inflammation, as is common in asthma. Either way, patients have trouble getting the air out of their lungs.

Researchers have observed persistent airflow obstruction in some patients who have recovered from COVID-19. This condition is usually treated with inhalers that deliver medications that open the airways. These treatments may also be helpful while recovering from COVID-19.

Restriction – reduced lung volume

Another form of lung disease is referred to as restriction or difficulty expanding the lungs.

Restriction reduces the volume of the lungs, and therefore the amount of air they can absorb. Restriction often results from the formation of scar tissue, also called fibrosis, in the lungs due to injury.

Fibrosis thickens the walls of the alveoli, making gas exchange with the blood more difficult. This type of scarring can occur in chronic lung diseases, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or as a result of severe lung damage in a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS.

ARDS can be caused by injuries that originate in the lungs, such as pneumonia, or severe disease in other organs, such as pancreatitis. About 25 percent of patients who recover from ARDS develop restrictive lung disease.

The researchers also found that patients who have recovered from COVID-19, especially those who are severely ill, can later develop restrictive lung disease.

COVID-19 patients who need a ventilator may have similar recovery rates to those who need a ventilator for other conditions. The long-term recovery of lung function in these patients is still unknown. Drugs that treat fibrotic lung disease after COVID-19 are currently undergoing clinical trials.

Impaired perfusion – reduced blood flow

Finally, even when airflow and lung volume are not affected, the lungs cannot complete their function if blood flow to the alveoli, where gas exchange occurs, is impaired.

COVID-19 is associated with an increased risk of blood clots. If blood clots travel to the lungs, they can cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism that restricts blood flow to the lungs.

In the long term, blood clots can also cause chronic problems with blood flow to the lungs, a condition called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, or CTEPH. Only 0.5 percent to 3 percent of patients who develop a pulmonary embolism for reasons other than COVID-19 go on to develop this chronic problem.

However, there is evidence that severe COVID-19 infection can directly damage the blood vessels in the lung and impair blood flow during recovery.

What’s Next?

The lungs can function less optimally in these three general ways, and COVID-19 can lead to all of them. Researchers and clinicians are still discovering better ways to treat the long-term lung damage seen in long-term COVID.

For clinicians, close follow-up with patients who have recovered from COVID-19, especially those with persistent symptoms, can lead to a faster diagnosis of long-term COVID.

Severe cases of COVID-19 are associated with higher rates of prolonged COVID. Other risk factors for developing prolonged COVID include pre-existing type 2 diabetes, the presence of virus particles in the blood after initial infection and certain types of abnormal immune function.

For researchers, the long COVID is an opportunity to study the underlying mechanisms of how different types of lung-related conditions resulting from COVID-19 infection develop.

Uncovering these mechanisms will allow researchers to develop targeted therapies to speed recovery and make more patients feel and breathe like their pre-pandemic selves again.

In the meantime, everyone can stay up to date on recommended vaccinations and use preventative measures such as good hand hygiene and disguising masks when appropriate.

This story was published from the news agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the title has changed.

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