Lifelong Lung Damage: The Severe COVID-19 Complication

Lifelong Lung Damage: The Severe COVID-19 Complication

Even young people could have severe complications from COVID-19. Serious cases of COVID-19 could cause lasting damage to the lungs that might require surgery or even organ transplants or graft. While the majority of COVID-19 deaths have happened in people who are older, fibrosis cases show that even young people who survive the disease could have lasting complications. A 20-year-old COVID-19 survivor in Chicago had a lung transplant that was required to treat a condition now being known as post-COVID fibrosis.

All data and statistics are based on openly or publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information might be out of date. More than 3.8 million people worldwide have healed from COVID-19. Although, recent cases are showing that even those who recover might still be at risk for long-term health problems. Despite the fact that the earliest coronavirus reports shown that younger people were at a lower risk of severe complications from COVID-19, recent findings, trusted sources are denying that belief.

Most recently, a 20-year-old COVID-19 survivor in Chicago was the recipient of a new set of lungs, because of a lung transplant that was required to treat a condition now being known as post-COVID fibrosis. There have been two other lung transplants done on COVID-19 survivors with post-COVID fibrosis: one was in China and the other was in Vienna. While the Chicago patient is anticipated to make a full recovery, this is another severe long-term effect of the virus that the public requires to be made aware of.

What is post-COVID fibrosis?

Holes in the lung likely indicates an entity that has been dubbed ‘post-COVID fibrosis,’ otherwise called post-ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) fibrosis, said Doctor Lori Shah, transplant pulmonologist at New York-Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) happens when fluid accumulates in tiny air sacs in the lungs known as alveoli. This lowers oxygen in the bloodstream and deprives the organs of oxygen which could lead to organ failure.

Post-COVID fibrosis, as stated by Shah, is defined as lung damage that is irreversible and could result in serious functional limitations from patients, for example, cough, shortness of breath, and requirement for oxygen.

Sometimes, as in this particular case in Chicago, the damage is so extensive that a patient might need a lung transplant.

What causes post-COVID fibrosis?

A combination of factors might contribute to post-COVID fibrosis. As stated by Doctor Zachary Kon, surgical director of lung transplantation at NYU Langone’s Transplant Institute, it can be that the virus causes the immune system to make blood clots, which then stops blood from going to specific segments of the lung. Another possibility, he said, is that the body’s immune response to the virus makes inflammatory debris that causes clots in capillary-level vessels. The result, in either case, is that parts of the lung die, hence forming holes in the lungs.

Who is at risk?

Simply put, we do not know yet. There is circumstantial evidence that some groups have a higher risk of a serious version of COVID-19 than others, said Kon. Overall, almost everyone who develops COVID-19 will have experience symptoms. In fact, many will be entirely asymptotic. Only a few will develop a serious infection. Kon added that these are the patients who are admitted into the hospital.

A group of hospitalized patients is placed on ventilators, and a group of those is placed on what’s called an ECMO machine (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), which pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body. The sicker you are along with the group, the higher the likelihood of post-COVID fibrosis, he said. We know how COVID-19 damages the lungs and airways, said Doctor Bushra Mina, chief of pulmonary medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Most patients healed entirely with some elements like residual cough and shortness of breath. But a specific population has extreme lung damage, and some of them wind up with fibrosis of the lung. This particular lung transplant patient from Chicago had earlier been on a ventilator and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine for two months before her operation. As stated by The Lancet, in a piece titled, pulmonary fibrosis secondary to COVID-19: A call to arms? A trusted source, the first group of hospitalized patients in Wuhan, China showed that twenty-six percent needed intensive care and sixty-one percent of that group developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Pulmonary fibrosis could develop either following chronic inflammation or as a main, genetically influenced, and age-associated fibro-proliferative process reports The Lancet. Available data shows that about forty percent of people with COVID-19 develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and of those, twenty percent are serious. At this point, added Mila, there is no definitive answer to why a specific population healed while others had serious lung damage. It is too early to say.

Other long-term effects

While the majority of COVID-19 deaths have happened in people who are older, these fibrosis cases show that even those who survive the disease could have lasting complications. As of June 10, the majority of deaths because of COVID-19 have been for people older than age 85 years.

As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source, death numbers are still greatly dependent on age. But what the medical community is preparing itself for are the cured cases that show long-term damage, like post-COVID fibrosis.

Some other effects involve:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Post-intensive care syndrome
  • A lasting impact on the kidneys, heart, and brain

The bottom line

It is important to take health and safety precautions concerning COVID-19 seriously. After reopening businesses and public facilities, 21 states are reporting an increase in affirmed COVID-19 cases.

Steps you could take to continue to minimize exposure and risk include:

  • Wearing masks in public
  • Increasing handwashing
  • Physical distancing

With these measures in place, the possibility of COVID-19 spreading drops dramatically. We all require to do our part to make sure the virus continues to slow its spread.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from post-covid lung damage, our expert providers at Post Covid Centers will take care of your health and help you recover.

Call 469-545-9983 to book a telehealth appointment for a home check-up.

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