Breathing Problems After COVID-19

Breathing problems or respiratory complications are the most common long-term effect of a COVID-19 illness. In most people, the coronavirus affects their respiratory system, such as their airways and lungs. In the more severe cases, this illness damages one or more of these structures. These are some of the breathing problems COVID-19 survivors experience. 


Pneumonia is one of the more common breathing problems associated with COVID-19. It is a condition caused by a bacterial infection of the airways and lungs. The difference between pneumonia and COVID-related pneumonia is the cause. COVID-related pneumonia is a breathing complication that happens because of a viral infection, not a bacterial infection. Regardless of how it happens, the infection causes the lungs to inflame. People experience respiratory symptoms like coughing, trouble breathing, chills, and fever.

Managing Viral Pneumonia

Healthcare providers prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial infections that cause pneumonia. However, we know that antibiotics aren’t most effective at treating most viral infections. Some antibiotics help to treat milder cases of viral pneumonia. On the other hand, more severe cases require hospitalization and medical treatment.

Lung Fibrosis

Lung fibrosis is another one of the breathing problems COVID-19 survivors experience. Fibrosis refers to the scarring of tissues. We believe that lung fibrosis happens when there’s chronic inflammation and damage to the lungs. This causes persistent respiratory symptoms that worsen over time. For instance, your cough or shortness of breath may last for weeks or months or start to get worse.

Who’s at Risk?

Certain groups of people are at risk for COVID-19 infections and complications. The same is true for progressive lung fibrosis. Older adults are at risk because of their vulnerability to health conditions. Also, people with severe comorbidities are at risk because of the nature of their different health conditions. Hospitalizations are another risk factor. People who’ve stayed in the hospital longer or required medical intervention because of a COVID-19 infection have a greater risk of injury ⎯ to their bodies and organs. So, they are at greater risk of experiencing breathing complications.

Respiratory Distress

Respiratory distress, a syndrome caused by widespread damage to the lungs, is another breathing complication and long-term effect of a COVID-19 infection. Your respiratory system can’t function properly if your lungs are damaged. You can’t bring air into your lungs or exhale gas from your body. Respiratory distress can lead to respiratory failure when your body doesn’t have enough oxygen or has too much harmful gas. A lack of oxygen causes damage to your body’s cells, organs, and tissues. And, depending on the amount of time those cells are without oxygen, the damage can be irreversible. In severe cases of respiratory failure, people have problems breathing on their own. Thus, they need assistance like intubation or ventilation.

Signs of Respiratory Failure

  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Quick, shallow breathing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Anxiety