COVID-19 can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms, ranging from a headache or fever to a strange rash on your hands and feet. However, many people—even those with a seemingly mild infection—experience at least one respiratory symptom of the virus. “Whereas some people can have it and have no idea they are infected, others end up in the Intensive Care Unit, unable to breathe and on a ventilator, since the virus targets the lungs,” says Dr. Deborah Lee. “So what should we look out for?” Read on to find out—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
You Are Experiencing Shortness of Breath
One of the most specific symptoms of COVID-19 is shortness of breath. In a paper published by Johns Hopkins Medicine, Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, MHS, an expert in lung disease, explained that this generally occurs when fluid starts filling the lungs making it harder to breathe and is also a symptom of pneumonia, explains Dr. Galiatsatos. “In pneumonia, the lungs become filled with fluid and inflamed, leading to breathing difficulties,” he writes. “The pneumonia that COVID-19 causes tends to take hold in both lungs. Air sacs in the lungs fill with fluid, limiting their ability to take in oxygen.”
You Can't Stop Coughing
Along with shortness of breath, a cough can signify a COVID-19 infection. Unlike a wet cough, which tends to be mucusy in nature, with a dry cough, nothing comes out. “This is typically dry and irritating. Experts describe the cough in the early stages of the disease as coughing episodes which can last up to an hour, and with 3 or more coughing bouts in 24 hours,” says Dr. Lee.
You Are Struggling to Breathe
With shortness of breath, you might have trouble keeping up. However, struggling to breathe is a more severe symptom of COVID-related lung damage. “As COVID-19 pneumonia progresses, more of the air sacs become filled with fluid leaking from the tiny blood vessels in the lungs. Eventually, shortness of breath sets in, and can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a form of lung failure,” Dr. Galiatsatos explained. “Patients with ARDS are often unable to breath on their own and may require ventilator support to help circulate oxygen in the body. Whether it occurs at home or at the hospital, ARDS can be fatal. People who survive ARDS and recover from COVID-19 may have lasting pulmonary scarring.”
Sepsis Can Occur
One of the signs that COVID is in your lungs, may not appear respiratory in nature but is a result of the infection. After COVID infects the lungs, sepsis can occur if the infection enters the bloodstream and starts damaging tissue throughout the body. “Lungs, heart and other body systems work together like instruments in an orchestra,” Galiatsatos explained. “In sepsis, the cooperation between the organs falls apart. Entire organ systems can start to shut down, one after another, including the lungs and heart.” This can result in death or permanent lung damage.
A “Superinfection” Can Occur
A COVID-19 infection in your lungs can force your immune system to work on overdrive, leading you susceptible to other infections. “This can leave the body more vulnerable to infection with another bacterium or virus on top of the COVID-19 — a superinfection,” Dr. Galiatsatos wrote. “More infection can result in additional lung damage.”
Protect Yourself and Others
Follow Dr. Anthony Fauci's fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.