A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Amsterdam has shed light on the long-term impact of COVID-19 on lung health. The findings indicate that even individuals who experienced mild cases of COVID-19 may continue to suffer from lung damage up to a year after their initial infection, affecting 25 percent of the study participants.
The research aimed to better understand the extent and recovery of pulmonary impairment across the full spectrum of COVID-19 severity over time. The study followed 349 participants from May 2020 to December 2021, with 301 of them undergoing at least one pulmonary function test. After one year, it was found that 25 percent of the participants still had impaired pulmonary function. Specifically, this affected 11 percent of those with mild cases, 22 percent of those with moderate cases, and 48 percent of those with severe/critical cases of COVID-19.
The study also revealed that improvement in pulmonary function continued over time, with noticeable progress at one, six, and twelve months. However, certain factors were associated with slower improvement, including older age, having more than three underlying health conditions (comorbidities), and initially experiencing severe/critical COVID-19.
The good news is that, in most cases, these lung conditions improved over time, and by the end of the 12-month follow-up period, the pulmonary function of many participants was comparable to that of individuals without any impaired lung function.
The researchers emphasised that their findings highlight the importance of focusing on revalidation and rehabilitation efforts for individuals who initially had moderate and severe/critical COVID-19. These insights are consistent with previous studies that have also observed a connection between the severity of COVID-19 and restrictive pulmonary function, especially in the year following infection.
Furthermore, the study suggests that the ongoing improvement in pulmonary function observed in individuals with severe/critical disease may be attributed to less damage to the lower respiratory tract during the acute phase of the disease, particularly in mild and moderate cases of COVID-19.