Can You Reverse Lung Damage?
From Covid-19 to wildfires, 2020 has been an assault on the lungs
The year 2020 has been an assault on the lungs. On top of normal-year issues such as air pollution and influenza, many people’s pulmonary systems must now deal with one or two added stressors: Covid-19 and wildfires. In the short term, both can cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath. But data is lacking about how often these irritants damage the respiratory system in the long term. What pulmonologists do know is that they can cause irreversible lung injury, but that injury may not destroy a person’s ability to live an active life, says Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Medium Coronavirus Blog
A Medium blog for Covid-19 news, advice, and commentary.
The damage Covid-19 and wildfire smoke trigger varies from temporary, mild inflammation to permanent scarring and loss of function. And although virus and smoke particles are very different — one group is considered biological and the other is not — they share similar mechanisms of causing lung damage. In both cases, it’s not the invading particles that cause the damage. It’s the immune system.
Covid-19 can scar the lungs for life
The coronavirus hijacks lung cells to replicate its own genetic material, but it does not benefit from permanently injuring the lungs. In fact, it’s not the direct cause of lung damage at all, Galiatsatos says. Instead, immune cells are the culprit. The primary goal of these cells is to fight off the virus, but lung cells suffer collateral damage during the battle. Luckily, the lungs have strategies to limit that damage.
The first defense priority of the lungs is to keep viruses like the coronavirus at bay. To do so, secretions and mucus in the airway trap the virus so the infected person can cough it up and out. Next, the airway becomes inflamed as immune cells charge into the area. This is where some lung cells are caught in the crossfire. Those that have been damaged by the virus…