Covid-19 is already disrupting people lives. While we comfort ourselves that the effects are temporary this potential for permanent damage has sent some ripples in the community. Those infected with coronavirus may be left with permanent lung damage.
Patients are claiming to have difficulty breathing and coughing months after treated for Covid-19. Doctors say that chest scans of these patients reveal irreversible lung damage that cannot be treated.
The number of people affected is not yet known, but estimates are as high as one in five who require intensive care treatment for Covid-19.
Permanent damage is sometimes seen after other types of chest infections that can cause lung inflammation similar to coronaviruses, such as flu and pneumonia.
James Chalmers, a chest physician and consultant at the British Lung Foundation, says, “We’ve always seen this before – what’s different is the scale it this”.
Previously, his clinic in Scotland would have seen the wound occurring once or twice a year after a lung infection
In a study in Italy, which was one of the first European countries to suffer coronavirus, doctors are scanning people’s lungs three months after becoming ill. While full results have not yet been revealed, Paolo Spagnolo at the University of Padua estimates that 15 to 20 percent of those treated in intensive care at their hospital for Covid-19 have scarring.
In most people, coronavirus causes only mild symptoms, but in some it leads to severe lung inflammation and a burst of immune signaling chemicals, creating a complication called a cytokine storm if this symptom is left undiagnosed, inflammation begins to cause scarring of the lungs.
This scarring of the lungs is called fibrosis and it is irreversible. All people can do is try to improve their aerobic fitness to compensate for their reduced lung function and learn to cope with respiratory problems.
Along with scarring, there may be other mechanisms that cause long-term problems. Severe Covid-19 poses a risk of blood clotting, so people develop small clots in the blood vessels of their lungs.
To compensate, new blood vessels develop, but can become disordered, causing high blood pressure in their lungs which reduces your oxygen intake.
This phenomenon is not only confined to ventilated patients. Severe COVID has the potential for permanent lung damage but those people who were ventilated have been more prone to long term complications.