Dealing with long-term lung damage from COVID-19

Reporter: Nicole Lauren Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
An X-ray of COVID-19 lung damage. Credit: WINK News

Doctors are still trying to understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on your lungs, and chest X-rays show COVID-19 patients can suffer lung damage similar to that of a smoker.

One big difference is that COVID-19 patients typically see their lungs improve over time after leaving the hospital. Pulmonologist Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad demonstrated the difference between two X-rays: The lungs of the COVID-19 patient are much foggier than normal, but lack the multiple holes present in the lungs of the smoker.

Ahmad says the timeframe for lung improvement in COVID-19 patients can be anywhere from three to six months, and adds that just because you are asymptomatic doesn’t mean you are in the clear.

“You may be asymptomatic, we’ve seen a lot of patients like that… and, for whatever reason, we have done some chest X-rays and we did find some changes in the lung on the X-ray,” Ahmad said. “However, those patients are likely to get better faster than the people who had symptoms.”

Ahmad says those who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 with moderate to severe symptoms should immediately see their primary doctor or a pulmonologist after being released.

“It’s not that you get out of the hospital and you get completely better,” Ahmad said. “Not only that, 60% of these patients have persistent respiratory symptoms after three months, and 25% of the patients actually developed lung function abnormality after three months.”

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