COVID-19 has been around for a few years, and it has become much more manageable than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. It still affects a large number of individuals globally, but COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and our improved knowledge about the virus have made it possible to live life with a little more normalcy.
The coronavirus disease is an infectious disease that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This virus tends to cause mild to moderate respiratory illness in healthy individuals.
Typical symptoms of mild to moderate COVID can include:
These symptoms of COVID-19 tend to resolve in a week or two, but some people may experience long COVID symptoms that stick around well after recovering from the viral COVID-19 infection.
Below is a closer look at what can cause shortness of breath after COVID, symptoms to look out for, and when to consult a doctor.
Shortness of breath is a common symptom associated with mild cases of COVID and, in severe cases, it can evolve into excessive trouble breathing. These symptoms tend to resolve after the immune system has successfully fought off the virus, but some people still experience post-COVID shortness of breath.
Here are some of the potential causes behind shortness of breath after a case of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that primarily affects the lungs. When the virus infects the lungs, it can cause inflammation and lasting damage to the lung tissue.
This damage can lead to scarring or fibrosis, which can make it harder for the lungs to function properly. As a result, the lungs may not be able to get enough oxygen, which can cause a feeling of breathlessness.
Preexisting lung damage from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema can also result in long-lasting shortness of breath following COVID. These lung diseases directly reduce the efficiency of the lungs, and getting COVID could exacerbate shortness of breath.
Fluid accumulation may be another potential reason behind lasting shortness of breath following a COVID infection. Fluid accumulation in the lungs, also referred to as pulmonary edema, can be a potential symptom of severe COVID infection. Having fluid in the lungs can reduce their ability to offload carbon dioxide and take in oxygen, which can result in poor oxygenation.
Pulmonary edema from COVID may also negatively impact the lungs in the long run and can even contribute to a health condition known as pulmonary hypertension. This happens when there’s increased resistance of blood flow through the pulmonary circuit, which can raise blood pressure in the pulmonary artery.
Over time, this condition can weaken the right side of the heart, causing right-sided heart failure. This condition can have many long-term symptoms, including shortness of breath and lowered oxygen levels in the blood.
Coughing is a natural reflex of the body that helps to eliminate materials that may be blocking the upper airway. Coughing is common during a COVID infection, as a sore throat and increased mucus production can activate the coughing reflex. Coughing typically resolves itself, but some people experience a long-term symptom called COVID cough.
COVID cough is a type of chronic cough that can impact your breathing. If you are constantly coughing, it can become more difficult to catch your breath.
Shortness of breath can be a frightening symptom to experience, and it can also progress and cause other possible symptoms.
Some common symptoms you may experience with shortness of breath following COVID include:
Shortness of breath can significantly impact your quality of life. If it is making it hard to do everyday activities, you should seek medical advice from a healthcare professional to receive the appropriate medical care and treatment.
It can be challenging to determine the underlying cause of shortness of breath, as it is also a symptom of many lung diseases and cardiovascular problems. Therefore, it's crucial to consult with your healthcare provider, who can evaluate your symptoms and recommend appropriate tests.
If you've had COVID-19 and are still experiencing difficulty breathing, your doctor may perform a lung function test, such as spirometry, to assess your lung function. They may also recommend a chest X-ray or CT scan to evaluate your lungs for damage or fluid buildup.
Shortness of breath is a symptom that generally requires immediate medical attention, especially if it interferes with day-to-day physical activities. Shortness of breath can also be an indicator of potentially life-threatening medical conditions, like a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
Below is a closer look at some potential scenarios when you may want to see a doctor or seek intensive care.
A persistent cough doesn’t sound all that bad, but it can significantly impact your quality of life and breathing quality. COVID cough is a common long-haul symptom, and it may be treatable. If you have a cough that lasts for weeks after COVID or is impacting your daily life, you should seek medical care.
If you feel unusually tired or fatigued, it can be a sign that your body is not getting enough oxygen. Unusual fatigue that comes after doing a simple activity or feeling fatigued to the point that it is difficult to carry out your daily routine is concerning and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Feeling lightheaded or dizzy can be a sign of low oxygen levels in the brain. Dizziness can be a concerning symptom as it can lead to falls and tends to be a precursor to loss of consciousness. If you have shortness of breath to the point that you feel dizzy, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Shortness of breath can also be a sign of an irregular heartbeat, which can be a serious medical condition. If you experience sudden heart palpitations, chest pain, or a rapid heartbeat along with shortness of breath, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
The treatment for shortness of breath after COVID will depend on the underlying cause, whether it’s lung damage or an accumulation of fluid. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and recommend the appropriate treatment, which may include medications and lifestyle changes.
With that being said, here is a closer look at some of the most common treatments for shortness of breath.
If you have low oxygen levels, your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy. This treatment involves inhaling oxygen at a high concentration through a non-rebreather mask or nasal cannula to help improve oxygen saturation in your blood. Oxygen therapy can help to reduce shortness of breath but is typically only utilized as a short-term treatment.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program that can help improve lung function and reduce shortness of breath. It includes exercise, breathing techniques such as pursed lip breathing, and education on how to manage your symptoms. Pulmonary rehab can help you build endurance and improve your ability to perform daily activities.
Shortness of breath after COVID can be a challenging symptom to manage, and it's important to seek medical attention if you experience it. With proper treatment, it's possible to improve your lung function and reduce your symptoms.
For your pulmonary rehabilitation needs, consider partnering with Carda Health. Carda Health is a virtual pulmonary rehab and cardiac rehab provider that applies proven methods to help patients improve their quality of life, make lasting healthy lifestyle choices, and implement tailored pulmonary exercise routines.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) | World Health Organizaiton (WHO)
Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Evidence of Pulmonary Hypertension after SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Subjects without Previous Significant Cardiovascular Pathology | NCBI