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Doctors describe longterm respiratory effects of COVID-19

Posted at 11:10 PM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 23:10:50-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Months after COVID-19 arrived in the United States, doctors are better understanding the long-term impacts the disease is having on patients with both mild cases and severe ones.

COVID has the potential to impact major organs in the body including the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain. In even mild cases, COVID can cause scarring on the lungs as the patient heals.

"So not only do you have the virus invasion of the human body, but now the immune system and the clotting, but then it makes very small areas in the lungs clot off. So you have fluid leaking out, building up. That’s a perfect storm," said Dr. Gustavo Cumbo-Nacheli, Pulmonologist with Spectrum Health.

There are two types of damage that are most common in the lungs: ground glass and crazy paving. Both are common and found in different stages of recovery.

In ground glass, the pattern presents itself as a lesion, often located in the right lung. Crazy paving presents itself in later stages of recovery.

Many patients who suffered from severe symptoms or required hospitalizations are still seeing last impacts on their respiratory system. A small percentage are suffering from post-covid pulmonary fibrosis. The lung damage is often irreversible and may require the need for oxygen, possibly for their entire lifetime following a diagnosis.

"It's not insignificant, the amount of patients that develop fibrosis, but I wouldn't say that it's exceedingly common, if you will."

The condition can impact all ages.

"You know, young patients they wish they knew then what they know. Now, I can tell you that there were thinking a lot of the decisions that they made. And it's unfortunately we cannot turn back time."

Dr. Cumbo-Nacheli says the best way to protect yourself and others is to take preventative measures.

"If we do not have all of these precautions and we roll the dice, chances are that somebody's going to draw a very short straw and we don't know who that is."