COVID-19 survivors, even with mild symptoms, could see lifelong lung complications, San Antonio doctor says

There’s a lot of residual scar tissue that’s left in patients lungs, according to Dr. Manica Isiguzo with Texas IPS

San Antonio – Doctors at Texas IPS, a San Antonio-based pulmonary medical group, say they are seeing many COVID-19 survivors suffering from interstitial lung diseases. Some patients with severe or even mild COVID-19 cases are left with scar tissue that may impact their breathing for life.

Santos Berrios, who moves patients at a hospital for his job, got COVID-19 days before Christmas 2020. Six months later, he’s not back to 100%, he says.

“I really have to be conscientious about really slowing down a little more, not walking so fast or taking a break once in a while because I get short of breath,” he said.

Berrios just returned to work about a week ago. His doctor, Dr. Manica Isiguzo with Texas IPS, says that her patient’s CAT scan shows improvements after treatment, but he will still have scar tissue damage in his lungs.

Berrios’ case is very similar to what Isiguzo says she is seeing in other patients following COVID-19 complications.

“There’s a lot of residual scar tissue that’s being left in these patients’ lungs, and that’s what that post-COVID-19 interstitial lung disease is,” she said. “You’ve pretty much lost that portion of your lungs. So your lung capacity is never going to be the same again.”

Some patients can get steroid treatment to help improve. Isiguzo says she’s seen improvement in Berrios, but his lungs still don’t look healthy. Isiguzo said even patients who had mild symptoms and were never hospitalized are having pulmonary problems.

“You’ll never have that lung capacity again in some patients because that scar tissue is tugging and pulling at their airbase. They’re just left with this chronic cough that just bothers them, (a) chronic cough that won’t go away,” she said.

Once fit and healthy patients in their 20s are among those seeking treatment, Isiguzo says.

“I have a whole set of patients that tell me they were so physically fit and active, and they’re not able to run. They’re not able to do their regular workouts. Even simple activities, like climbing stairs, is now hard for them,” she said.

There’s still not much research to show how and if the lungs can improve after COVID-19, Isiguzo says. It’s a wait-and-watch situation for doctors.

Isiguzo urges anyone who had COVID-19 and is still struggling with breathing to seek a specialist sooner rather than later.

At one point in his illness, Berrios was told he might need a lung transplant. He says happy with the progress he’s making so far.

“I don’t look at getting better day-by-day but just more week-by-week,” he said.

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.