Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 10 October 2021
Table of contents
What Does COVID-19 Do to Your Lungs?
COVID-19 is a respiratory condition that mostly affects the upper respiratory tract, including the lungs.
COVID-19 can trigger a variety of respiratory problems, ranging from mild to severe. Older adults and those with other health problems such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes may develop more severe symptoms.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2, which belongs to the coronavirus family.
The virus infects your mucous membranes, which line your nose, mouth, and eyes, as it enters your body. The virus infects a healthy cell and uses it to replicate itself. It multiplies and infects neighboring cells with new viruses.
Imagine the respiratory tract as an upside-down tree. The trachea, or windpipe, is found in the trunk. Through the lungs, it divides into bigger and smaller branches. Alveoli are tiny air sacs located at the end of each branch. This is where oxygen enters the bloodstream and carbon dioxide exits.
The modern coronavirus has the potential to invade either the upper or lower respiratory tract. It flows into the lungs. It is possible for the lining to get irritated and inflamed. The infection can travel all the way down to your alveoli in certain instances.
COVID-19 is a brand-new disease, and scientists are learning more about what it can do to your lungs every day. The effects on your body are believed to be similar to those of two other coronavirus diseases, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Mild and Moderate Cases
Your immune system strikes back when the virus spreads across the respiratory tract. Your lungs and airways swell and become inflamed. This can begin in one section of your lung and spread across the rest of the body.
COVID-19 induces mild to moderate symptoms in around 80% of individuals. You may be suffering from a dry cough or a sore throat. Some patients develop pneumonia, which is a lung infection that causes the alveoli to become inflamed.
A chest X-ray or CT scan may reveal signs of respiratory inflammation. They can see something called “ground-glass opacity" on a chest CT because it reflects the frosted glass on a shower door.
Around 14% of COVID-19 cases are severe, resulting in inflammation of both lungs. The lungs fill with fluid and debris as the swelling worsens.
You may also be suffering from a more severe case of pneumonia. The air sacs fill with mucus, fluid, and other cells that are trying to fight the infection. This will make it more difficult for the body to absorb oxygen. It's likely that you're having difficulty breathing or that you're out of breath. It's even likely that you'll be able to breathe more rapidly, with shallow breathing.
When the doctor performs a CT scan on the chest, the opaque spots in your lungs tend to be connecting to one another.
The infection will affect the walls and linings of the air sacs of your lungs in serious COVID-19 cases, which account for around 5% of all cases. Your lungs get inflamed and fill with fluid while your body attempts to fight it. It may be more difficult for your lungs to function normally and to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide as a result of this.
You could be affected from severe pneumonia or ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) (ARDS). Under the most serious cases, a ventilator is used to assist the lungs in doing their normal functions.
There is evidence that 20-30% of seriously ill patients may develop clots in their lungs, heart, brain, or legs, any of which may be fatal.
COVID-19 has caused extensive tissue injury in a few patients, necessitating lung transplants.
It can take a long time to recover from pneumonia. You may feel more exhausted than normal. You may also find that you are unable to work out as intensely as you once did.
And after recovering from COVID-19, several people had a persistent cough. Some people's lungs were scarred permanently. Doctors are now examining if these side effects are lifelong or whether they can be restored over time.
Referenced on 7.4.2021
- The Lancet Infectious Disease: “Radiological findings from 81 patients with COVID-19 pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study.”
- National Cancer Institute: “NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms – alveoli.”
- Biophysical Journal: “How Viruses Invade Cells.”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2).”
- The Lancet Respiratory Medicine: “Pathological findings of COVID-19 associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome.”
- World Health Organization: “Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” “Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).”
- The Lancet: “COVID-19: What is next for public health?” “Clinical course and risk factors for mortality of adult inpatients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: a retrospective cohort study.”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Pneumonia.”
- UpToDate: “Patient education: Acute respiratory distress syndrome (The Basics),” “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
- American Lung Association: “Pneumonia Treatment and Recovery.”
- American Thoracic Society: “What is Pneumonia?”
- Radiology: “Time Course of Lung Changes On Chest CT During Recovery From 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pneumonia,” “Chest CT Findings in Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19): Relationship to Duration of Infection.”
- Translational Lung Cancer Research: “Ground-glass nodules of the lung in never-smokers and smokers: clinical and genetic insights.”
- F.A. Klok, M.J.H.A. Kruip, N.J.M. van der Meer, M.S. Arbous, D.A.M.P.J. Gommers, K.M. Kant, F.H.J. Kaptein, J. van Paassen, M.A.M. Stals, M.V. Huisman, H. Endeman: Incidence of thrombotic complications in critically ill ICU patients with COVID-19, 04.13.2020