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What damage does COVID-19 do to your lungs?

Ventilators to help patients breathe are in big demand because of what novel coronavirus can do to lungs

If you're facing the reality of COVID-19, but not in immediate danger but potentially higher risk -- you have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension or lung issues; you're over 60; or you are immune-compromised -- you may be told to closely monitor your symptoms but shelter at home.
If you're facing the reality of COVID-19, but not in immediate danger but potentially higher risk -- you have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension or lung issues; you're over 60; or you are immune-compromised -- you may be told to closely monitor your symptoms but shelter at home. (CNN)

One of the symptoms of getting the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, is shortness of breath, which explains why ventilators are in such demand right now to help patients breathe as they recover from the disease.

But what exactly does COVID-19 do to the lungs that causes so many problems?

Here’s a breakdown specifically of the harm, according to the Cleveland Clinic.


What is the type of condition COVID-19 can produce to the lungs?

COVID-19 can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS for short, an inflammatory lung condition that causes low oxygen levels in the blood. It’s a life-threatening condition that often requires treatment by a ventilator.

How does ARDS damage your lungs?

Those suffering from ARDS have damage to the walls of air sacs in their lungs, which help oxygen pass through red blood cells, the experts say.

COVID-19 can damage both the walls and lining cells of those air sacs, as well as the capillaries that transport oxygen to red blood cells.

Eventually, the walls of the air sacs get thicker than normal, which makes it harder to transfer oxygen, and thus, makes people short of breath.

How is ARDS it so connected to COVID-19?

In examining patients in Wuhan, China, who contracted COVID-19, Chinese researchers discovered that 50 of 54 patients who died developed ARDS.

Of 137 patients who survived, only nine had ARDS.

How can you tell if you have ARDS?

  • If your shortness of breath isn’t explained by heart failure or fluid overload.
  • Having low oxygen levels in your blood (severe hypoxia).
  • Both lungs appearing white and opaque (versus black) on chest X-rays (called bilateral lung opacities on chest imaging).
  • If you have an acute condition, symptoms that started within one week of what they call a “known clinical insult,” or new or worsening symptoms.

Dr. Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, a lung pathologist, explains more about the damage COVID-19 can do to the lungs in a video below.


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