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By Susan White
It may feel as though COVID-19 has been around forever but it’s still a relatively new disease and there is so much to learn about it, especially its potential long-term impact on lung health.
For most people who had a mild case of COVID-19 related to their lungs, there probably isn’t a significant threat of any long-term lung damage, though more information is still needed, said Neil Freedman, MD, a NorthShore Critical Care and Pulmonary Disease specialist.
While there aren’t any long-term data studies yet following those who were hospitalized and on a ventilator with COVID, people on ventilators for other types of pneumonia typically regain very close to normal function within a year, explained Dr. Freedman.
“Prevention is really the greatest thing we can all do to help protect our lung health; wearing masks social distancing and washing hands are still important,” added Dr. Freedman. “And getting vaccinated clearly makes a real difference. We are seeing that here and across the country as the vast majority of people admitted to the hospital with COVID now are unvaccinated.”
Take Steps Now to Improve Lung HealthAnd beyond COVID, prevention tactics like washing your hands reduce the spread of all kinds of respiratory diseases. Getting a flu vaccine, and for those over 65 and those with underlying chronic conditions, the pneumococcal vaccine are also important strategies to preserve lung health.
“Exercise, eating right, maintaining a normal weight and getting enough sleep are all important for good lung health. When your body is in better shape, your lungs and heart work more efficiently,” he said. “Avoiding inhaling tobacco, cigars and vaping is also crucial.”
Pulmonary rehabilitation for patients with chronic lung disease has been shown to reduce hospital admissions and delay readmissions, explained Dr. Freedman.
“Movement is important, exercise can be regular walking and other simple things that don’t require a gym membership,” he added.
Quitting Smoking: You Can Do It!Quitting smoking is obviously key to lung health, and Dr. Freedman encourages people to consider resources like support groups and medications to help quit. NorthShore offers smoking cessation help to patients looking to quit.
“Even if you’ve tried and failed before, it doesn’t mean you can’t quit now. It often takes people six or seven attempts to quit for good,” he said.
For those who smoke, have a significant past smoking history or have a family history of lung cancer, lung cancer screening via low dose CT scanning may be appropriate.
Finding spots or nodules on lungs, sometimes through an X-ray or scan for another issue, is actually quite common, and most of them are benign, said Dr. Freedman. For spots that are larger or more concerning, physicians will advise following them over time or when necessary undergoing a biopsy.