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Covid-19 Can Leave you Breathless

Jason M. Allen, D.O.

In the months since Covid-19 first appeared, we’ve learned a lot about how it spreads and many of the harmful and sometimes lasting effects it can have on our bodies, most especially our lungs.

Covid-19, like most corona viruses, is a virus that causes respiratory infection. It spreads through respiratory droplets that easily escape an infected person’s respiratory system when they cough, sneeze, sing, or even just talk. This is why the use of facial coverings (masks) is so effective in reducing the spread of this virus! Everyone that wears a mask and follows social distancing guidelines when around other people is not only showing proper respect for those around them, but is also participating in the most effective (and easiest) preventative measures we know of.

And, as you may have heard in the past, wearing that mask is most effective at protecting others from YOU. And this is especially important because some cases of Covid-19 don’t produce noticeable or significant symptoms but also because people that are infected with this virus start shedding the virus up to 2-3 days BEFORE they develop symptoms. So, even though you may feel well, you could be infected and not know it or could merely be in the early phase of an infection before you start feeling unwell and be unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Please, for everyone’s safety, wear a mask!

Although some that become infected with this virus will experience only mild symptoms, the vast majority of people that get Covid-19 will experience symptoms similar to a bad flu (fever, malaise, fatigue, cough, etc.). And some, especially the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and/or underlying autoimmune disorders, are at risk of experiencing much more severe symptoms and can even die from an infection.

The most severe and debilitating symptoms of this disease stem from what this virus can do to our lungs. As the infection progresses in our system, it can sometimes cause severe pneumonia. On chest x-rays or CT of the chest, this manifests as multiple white areas within the periphery of the lung tissue. This appearance is most commonly diffuse, affecting both lungs and often all lobes of the lungs.

This appearance is caused by the buildup of fluid and cellular debris in the small air sacs that make up the lung tissue called alveoli. The alveoli are the part of the lung where gas exchange occurs (oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is released by the blood stream). When enough of these sacs are damaged and fill up with fluid, the person becomes very short of breath and is unable to maintain their blood oxygen saturation which can lead to other problems such as organ damage, stroke, and heart attack.

Unfortunately as this virus continues to spread, it’s most severe effects become more and more common (we’ve all seen the soaring infection rate and death tolls reported recently). Fortunately however, it is within our power, individually and collectively, to protect ourselves and our communities by adhering to a few simple guidelines:

1) Wear a face covering whenever around others.

2) Avoid large indoor gatherings.

3) Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others whenever possible.

Together we can bring this virus back under control and help bring an end to suffering and sadness that it continues to cause as it spreads.

Shown above are images taken of a patient’s lungs from the SLV Health’s Imaging Clinic. The photos demonstrate how quickly the Covid-19 disease can affect a person’s health. These images are taken 3 days in a row, about the same time of day.