What happens to the lungs of the people when they get COVID-19?


COVID-19, which is now famous for causing the pandemic that started during late 2019 leading to a cluster of symptoms similar to pneumonia without any known cause. Pneumonia like symptoms was then found to occur due to the new strain of virus i.e., SARS-COV-2 or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which led to the illness known as COVID-19. WHO declared this disease as a pandemic. Most of the patients suffering from COVID-19 give mild, cold, flu-like symptoms. According to WHO, 80% of people suffering from COVID-19 recover effectively without any need for special treatment. However, one out of six people suffers from severe illness leading to breathing difficulties. 


Covid-19 features severe pneumonia in patients suffering from it. According to Prof. John Wilson, who is a respiratory physician at Royal Australian College, he categorized COVID-19 patients into four categories.

  1. The first category is of people who are sub-clinical and do not show any symptoms even though they are infected with the virus. 
  2. The next category is people who have upper respiratory tract infections. They suffer from headaches, cough, fever, or conjunctivitis. These people with minor symptoms can also transmit viruses without being aware of it.
  3. The third group is of people who have severe flu-like symptoms and are admitted to hospitals or surgery. These people come out positive for COVID-19, and they are unable to continue at their workplace.
  4. The last category is of people who suffer from severe illness and have features of pneumonia.

John Wilson further added that in Wuhan, these categories worked out and showed that people who turned out positive and who seek medical help roughly 6% of them had severe illness. According to WHO, people who have compromised immune systems or who suffer from conditions like high blood pressure, lung diseases, heart diseases, diabetes, or others are at high risk to suffer from a severe illness.


According to Wilson, when people suffering from coronavirus develop fever and cough, it indicates that the virus has reached the respiratory tract, especially the air passages which are responsible for the transmission of air inside and outside the lungs. He further explains that the viral infection leads to the inflammation of the respiratory lining can cause injury. This inflammation, in turn, leads to irritation of the nerves in the airway lining. However, in worst conditions, the virus can invade the gas exchange units by passing through the airway lining and reach the end of the airway passage. If airway passage becomes infected, it leads to the secretion of inflammatory material within the air sacs, which are located at the bottom of the lungs. Wilson further explains that once the airway sacs are inflamed, they result in an outpouring of this inflammatory material throughout the lungs leading to pneumonia. When the lungs are filled with this inflammatory material, it makes the patients unable to get enough amounts of oxygen within the bloodstream. The less intake of oxygen leads to the reduced ability of the body to consume oxygen and excrete enough quantities of carbon dioxide. This imbalance of oxygen intake and excretion of carbon dioxide causes death in severe cases of COVID-19.


Prof Christine Jenkins, a leading respiratory physician from Australia, confirms that, unfortunately, until now, there is nothing much which can be done to stop people from acquiring COVID-19 pneumonia. People these days are trying a combination of antiviral and viral medications, but none seems capable due to which supportive treatment is only advised for infected patients in intensive care. Ventilation and maintenance of high oxygen levels help in maintaining the lung functioning for recovery. Patients suffering from Covid-19 pneumonia are at high risk to suffer from secondary infections due to which antiviral and antibiotics are also administered. However, in the current outbreak, this seemed uncontrollable, and people did not survive.


According to Prof. Jenkins, Covid-19 pneumonia is different when compared to the conventional bacterial pneumonia due to which people are administered in the hospital setting and respond well to antibiotics. Wilson further adds that COVID-19 pneumonia is different because it is quite severe and affects all parts of the lungs rather than some parts of it. In typical situations, when the air sacs are involved, the body’s immune system tries to recover it. However, in individuals with compromised immune systems, the first responder mechanism is unable to cope up with the situation. Age is the primary key factor in predicting death due to COVID-19 pneumonia. It mainly affects people aged above 65 years, people with a weak immune system, and infants aged 12 months or below. Pneumonia affects mostly the people with the weak immune system, so try boosting up your immune system for fighting off diseases and infections.