COVID-19: Lung Symptoms and Damage
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID-19 can cause lung damage, especially for those who are at a higher risk of severe illness.
- COVID-19 can affect the lungs by entering the lung cells through the ACE2 receptors.
- Studies have shown COVID-19 lung damage can persist for up to a year.
COVID-19 lung damage is a cause of concern for people who become infected with the coronavirus. Especially for those with underlying risk factors, there’s a chance of experiencing lung damage after COVID-19. This article will give you an insight into the way that COVID-19 can affect the lungs, the possible symptoms that you may encounter, and what you can do about this.
How does COVID-19 affect the lungs?
COVID lung damage can happen when the coronavirus enters the lung cells. The coronavirus can do so by attaching itself to a specific cell receptor called the ACE-2 receptor. By attaching itself, the virus can enter the cell and take over its ability to make copies of itself. Once the virus is inside, it can create more copies of itself to infect other cells. The lungs are often affected as they contain a significant number of ACE2 receptors, and the virus can reach the lungs swiftly through the air that you breathe.1
In order to understand the way that COVID-19 affects the lungs, it’s essential to know the anatomy of the lungs. When air flows in through your mouth and nose, it passes through your windpipe, which branches out into 2 bronchi that lead to smaller and smaller airways inside your lungs. These airways eventually end in clusters of air-filled sacs, which are called the alveoli. Their function is to bring oxygen-rich air to the lungs so that the oxygen can eventually be absorbed by the blood and brought to the cells and tissues that need it. Carbon dioxide is also interchanged by the alveoli, after which it can be breathed out.2
Once the coronavirus enters the cells of the lungs and multiplies there, it provokes a reaction from the immune system, causing inflammation of the air sacs. This causes the tissue to scar and stiffen or fill with fluid. Because of this reaction, it’s more difficult for oxygen to pass into your bloodstream and go to the tissues that need it.1
What are the symptoms of lung damage from COVID-19?
The coronavirus can cause a wide array of symptoms, including respiratory symptoms due to the infection in the lungs. Some possible symptoms that you may notice when COVID attacks your lungs are:3
- A cough
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue as your oxygen levels may decrease from the inflammation in your lungs. This could feel like exhaustion that doesn’t seem to go away, even after you’ve had enough rest.
- Chest pain, which may also feel like your back hurts where your lungs are.
- A burning sensation in your lungs.
The severity of these symptoms can depend from person to person. Some people may be at a higher risk of severe complications due to COVID-19, such as lung damage. The following risk factors affect how sick you might get from the coronavirus:4
- Being unvaccinated
- Your age, especially if you are over 50 years old
- Certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy and immune suppressive therapy
- Particular illnesses and conditions such as cardiovascular disease and immune deficiencies
- High blood pressure
- Chronic conditions of the lungs, such as COPD and asthma
Several lung conditions can be caused by COVID-19, such as:1
How do you know if you’re infected with coronavirus?
To be sure what is causing your respiratory symptoms, it’s necessary to get tested. This can be done using a PCR test or an antigen test. Both require a swab from the back of the throat or the nose, which can then be analyzed.5 6
How long does it take for the lungs to recover from COVID-19?
How long it will take for your lungs to recover from COVID-19 will depend on how severe the impact on your lungs was. The symptoms of your infection may clear up after a few weeks, although they can also persist if you have long COVID. The damage to the lungs after COVID-19 may last for an entire year after the onset of symptoms, according to studies.7
How to clear the lungs during COVID-19
The treatment of the lungs depends on your situation and the possible complications you may be suffering from. Some symptoms can be managed at home by:
- Resting sufficiently
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Taking over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, naproxen, or other medication which your doctor may prescribe
In severe cases, hospitalization may be required. If you’re having trouble breathing, it may be that you’ll need:8
- Oxygen therapy
- Treatment with a ventilator
- Airway support
If you have COVID-19, you should monitor your symptoms closely so you’re ready to take action if they worsen. You should contact your doctor if:9
- You still feel unwell or gradually feeling worse.
- You have difficulty breathing without exercising.
- You feel very weak, and basic tasks are becoming too difficult.
- You’re shaking or shivering.
How to prevent lung damage from COVID-19?
Besides the existing therapy for COVID-19-related lung conditions, there are a few things that you can do to prevent the risk of lung damage from COVID-19:10
- Getting vaccinated and keeping your vaccination up to date.
- Stop smoking.
- Keep underlying health issues properly managed.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with water and soap.
- Use a mask that fits well, covering both the nose and mouth. Masks can set a barrier for the particles you breathe, cough, or sneeze out. Respirators such as the N95 mask provide higher protection as they fit closely on the face and filter out particles, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Keeping a safe distance from others.
- Improve ventilation in indoor spaces by opening up a window or by moving indoor activities outdoors.
- Avoid contact with people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who have tested positive.
- Get tested for COVID-19 if you think that you might have been infected, and stay at home if you suspect that you have COVID-19.
If you belong to a risk group, you may be eligible for COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment. It’s important to know whether you belong to a risk group and to get treatment as soon as possible if you become infected. This medication helps your immune system tackle the virus to make the course of the disease less severe.
COVID-19 lung damage results from the scarring and stiffening of lung tissue once the coronavirus has entered the lung cells. The damage can cause an array of respiratory symptoms and can have an impact on your quality of life. If you’ve had severe respiratory symptoms throughout your infection with the coronavirus, then your lung damage should be followed up as it can persist even after your symptoms have cleared.
Q: How long does it take to recover from COVID-19 lung damage?
A: It depends on how severe the impact on the lungs was. However, studies have shown that it may take up to a year to recover from the lung damage caused by the coronavirus.
Q: What does COVID-19 do to your lungs?
A: Once the coronavirus enters the lung cells through the ACE-2 receptors, it provokes the immune system, which in turn causes inflammation. This inflammation can cause scarring and stiffening of the lung tissue, which makes it harder for oxygen to pass on to the blood. This can cause a variety of respiratory symptoms.
Q: How to remove mucus from the lungs naturally during COVID?
A: If you have a cough as a result of an infection with the coronavirus and you’re having difficulties coughing up your phlegm, then it may be helpful to drink plenty of fluids and to keep the air moist so that you experience fewer complications in clearing your airways.
Q: How to strengthen the lungs after COVID
A: Your physician may recommend you do breathing exercises to strengthen your diaphragm and other respiratory muscles, which the infection with the coronavirus may have weakened.