Ongoing Respiratory Problems after COVID-19

COVID-19 has resulted in 802,198 confirmed cases and 9,937 deaths in Arkansas as of this writing. Some cases are asymptomatic (no symptoms) or mild, and some are life threatening. One thing that is becoming clear as we gain more experience with this disease is that COVID-19 can cause multiple respiratory problems. 


COVID-19 pneumonia is an infection of the lungs.  It causes inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs which causes them to fill with fluid. This makes breathing difficult. COVID-19 pneumonia usually affects both lungs.

The CDC reports that people with COVID-19 have a 17% chance of developing pneumonia. Some risk factors make it more likely that COVID-19 will lead to pneumonia:

  • Unvaccinated people are more likely to develop pneumonia.
  • Obesity increases the chances of developing pneumonia.
  • People over 65 are more likely to end up with this complication.
  • Conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and HIV make pneumonia more likely.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, is a complication of COVID-19 that can lead to long-term respiratory problems. ARDS is a severe form of lung failure. ARDS can cause scarring in the lungs which results in permanent lung function limitation.

One study found that COVID-19 pneumonia led to ARDS in 11.5% of people hospitalized with COVID-19.  ARDS resulting from COVID-19 is more likely to be fatal than ARDS from other causes such as influenza.  Unvaccinated people are 53 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people, which is mostly due to lung failure. 


About one-third of patients seem to have ongoing respiratory problems after recovering from COVID-19.  Symptoms may include chronic cough, wheezing, or low oxygen levels.  Even people who have mild COVID-19 symptoms can experience continuing symptoms after they recover from COVID-19.

new study has identified markers for long COVID that show up in blood tests. Type 2 diabetes is also a risk factor.

What Can You Do? 

“Long COVID” or post-COVID-19 syndrome is still being studied and is not fully understood. The best way to avoid long-term problems from COVID-19 is not to catch the virus in the first place—and the best way to avoid catching the virus to get fully vaccinated.  Get your COVID-19 vaccinations at most pharmacies and clinics, and rely on masks and social distancing to be safe.  MANA also offers a Post COVID Recovery Program for patients in Northwest Arkansas without a primary care doctor.