COVID-19 and Pneumonia
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID-19 pneumonia is a complication of an infection with the coronavirus.
- If you’ve had severe COVID-19 pneumonia, recovery can take up to a year.
- The possibility of getting COVID-19 pneumonia increases if you have underlying risk factors.
COVID-19 pneumonia is a respiratory infection that may cause severe lung damage. Although most people who become infected with the coronavirus only experience mild symptoms, about 15% of COVID-19 cases are severe and can come with complications such as pneumonia.
What is COVID-19 pneumonia?
COVID-19 pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs caused by an infection with the coronavirus. Although people may develop pneumonia due to COVID-19, not everyone infected with the coronavirus develops this condition. Apart from the coronavirus, pneumonia can also be caused by other viruses, bacteria, or even fungi.
COVID-19 pneumonia usually affects both lungs simultaneously, whereas other types of pneumonia can be limited to one lung or a part of a lung. Pneumonia affects the air sacs called alveoli. The alveoli are located at the end of the tiny air tubes in the lungs. The alveoli are vital, as they allow the lungs and the blood to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide during inhalation and exhalation. If you have caught COVID-19 pneumonia, these alveoli will fill up with fluid and pus. The fluid present in the alveoli decreases the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which causes the symptoms of COVID-19 pneumonia. ref1 ref2
What are the common symptoms of COVID-19 pneumonia?
COVID-19 pneumonia can start suddenly or can develop gradually over a few days. The most commonly reported symptoms are: 1
- A cough combined with yellow or green phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Body aches
- Feeling tired without a specific cause
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling confused or disoriented
Increased difficulty with breathing is often one of the first symptoms of COVID-19, turning into COVID-19 pneumonia.
The risks of COVID-19 pneumonia
COVID-19 pneumonia is a serious condition that often requires hospitalization and may be a cause of death in some cases. It’s essential to monitor your symptoms and to contact your physician if your situation worsens. You should especially seek medical attention if: 1
- You’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks
- You’re coughing up blood
- You’re experiencing chest pain that comes and goes or chest pain when breathing or coughing
- You’re feeling short of breath
- You’re struggling to breathe and speak
- You have pale blue skin
- You suddenly feel confused or disoriented
How is COVID-19 pneumonia diagnosed?
For your physician to diagnose you with COVID-19 pneumonia, you'll first be asked questions about the course of your disease, symptoms, and medical history. Your physician will also perform a physical exam, listen to your lungs, and order diagnostic tests such as chest X-rays or CT scan.
IA PCR test or blood work can be done for your health provider to track the cause of your pneumonia. By combining these examinations, your physician can detect the cause of your pneumonia quicker, which is beneficial for the outcome of the disease. 2 3
How long does COVID-19 pneumonia last?
COVID-19 pneumonia develops slower and lasts longer than other forms of pneumonia. Studies suggest that this happens because the coronavirus enters the immune cells in the lungs. Because of this, the coronavirus can travel easily to different areas in the lungs, causing inflammation in various locations at the same time. This extends the course of the disease and the recovery period. 4
Most people with COVID-19 pneumonia start feeling better within 3 to 6 weeks. However, people with more severe cases can battle pneumonia for months. It can even take a year with continuous treatment for lung function to return to the levels before the infection with the coronavirus. Getting immediate medical treatment allows for a quicker recovery and increases the survival rate of COVID-19 pneumonia. 4
How to treat COVID-19 pneumonia
Treatment for COVID-19 pneumonia can include the admission of antiviral therapy to support the immune system in fighting the virus. Your healthcare provider can give you a prescription to get this medication after assessing your risk of severe illness.
Less severe cases of COVID-19 pneumonia will be treated at home with a focus on the symptoms. This may include over-the-counter medication to lower the fever and to help against the cough. Drinking sufficient fluids and getting rest is also recommended until the symptoms start to fade.
In more severe cases, treatment at a hospital can become necessary.
Corticoids like dexamethasone are not recommended except for hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia that also require supplemental oxygen.
The CDC also advises against using certain medications discussed earlier, like Ivermectin and Colchicine.
If there is a bacterial infection present in addition to your infection with the coronavirus, antibiotics may be prescribed Antibiotics only fight off bacteria, but not viruses like the Coronavirus. Therefore, it’s no surprise that studies found that using antibiotics for COVID-19 pneumonia without a bacterial co-infection did not prevent hospitalization or death. 5
As COVID-19 pneumonia affects your oxygen intake, there’s often a need to administer additional oxygen. This can happen via supplemental oxygen through the nose, or through mechanical ventilation if you cannot breathe alone. 6
How to prevent COVID-19 pneumonia
Besides the existing therapy for COVID-19-related pneumonia, there are a few things that you can do to prevent the risk of this complication:
- Getting vaccinated and keeping your vaccination up to date
- Stop smoking
- Maintaining good hand hygiene
- Keep underlying health issues properly managed
COVID-19 pneumonia is a severe complication of COVID-19 which could result in hospitalization and an increased chance of death because of the infection. It's crucial to monitor your symptoms closely if you've been infected with the coronavirus and seek medical attention if your condition worsens. This is especially true if you have underlying risk factors for severe illness due to COVID-19.
Q: What are the signs of COVID-19 pneumonia?
A: Most people with COVID-19 pneumonia experience shortness of breath, trouble breathing, fever, and cough.
Q: Is COVID-19 pneumonia contagious?
A: The virus that causes COVID-19 is very contagious, so you should always keep public health measures in mind to prevent others from getting sick as well.
Q: How long does it take to recover from COVID-19 pneumonia?
A: Mild cases of COVID-19 pneumonia can be better within 3 to 6 weeks, whereas people with severe pneumonia may need therapy up to a year after the original infection.
Q: What are some signs that COVID-19 pneumonia is improving?
A: When your pneumonia is improving, you’ll find that your fever breaks, you produce less phlegms, and you’ll feel less short of breath.