STOCKHOLM, Sweden — COVID-19 has become fairly synonymous with lasting lung damage during the pandemic. However, a new study reveals young people who recover from the virus do not have weaker lungs after their illness.
Researchers find that only in extreme cases of COVID-19 infection do children, teenagers, and young adults have minor long-lasting breathing problems. The majority of people who catch COVID-19 only experience minor symptoms and recover within 10 days of testing positive, scientists add.
Despite the findings, there has been growing concern surrounding the virus’ possible long-term effects on patient’s lungs. Now, European scientists have found young people’s lungs continue to function well after recovering from their infection. Researcher say even children with asthma did not have weaker lungs after recovering from COVID.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about if and how the lung is affected after clearance of the coronavirus infection, especially in young people from the general population with less severe disease. Until now, this has not been known,” says Dr. Ida Mogensen from the Karolinska Institute in a media release.
Young adults appear to bounce back after having COVID
Study authors analyzed information on young people born in Stockholm between 1994 and 1996 participating in a large-scale study when the coronavirus emerged. Researchers carried out a clinical examination before and after the pandemic, measuring how well the participants could exhale after taking the deepest breath possible.
They also looked at participant’s FVC ratio – an indicator of narrow airways – and compared the results with measurements taken before the pandemic. Of the 661 young people, 178 (27%) tested positive for COVID.
“Our analysis showed similar lung function irrespective of COVID-19 history,” Dr. Mogensen reports. “When we included 123 participants with asthma in the analysis, the 24% who had had COVID-19 tended towards having a slightly lower lung function, but this was not statistically significant.”
Children’s lungs also recover quickly
In a second study, scientists carried out lung function tests between August 2020 and March 21, 2021 on a group of 73 children and teenagers between five and 18 years-old.
“Although children and adolescents tend to suffer less severe symptoms from COVID-19 infection than adults, to date there is only preliminary evidence about long-term effects of COVID-19 on pulmonary function in children and adolescents. It’s important to evaluate this given the fact that children worldwide will potentially get infected with SARS-CoV-2 as long as vaccines are predominantly reserved for adults and high-risk groups,” explains Dr. Anne Schlegtendal from University Children’s Hospital in Germany.
Study authors compared the results with a “control group” of 45 children who did not contract coronavirus during the pandemic.
“When we compared the COVID-19 patients with the control group, we found no statistically significant differences in the frequency of abnormal lung function. They occurred in 16% of the COVID-19 group and 28% of the control group,” Dr. Schlegtendal says.
Severe COVID infections are still a major concern
The team did record a dip in FVC in patients who suffered a severe infection, whether it was from COVID or some other pulmonary infection. The study included a small number of participants who reported their own symptoms and did not include patients with severe breathing problems.
“These findings should offer some reassurance to children, adolescents and their families. Severity of infection proved to be the only predictor for mild lung function changes and this is independent of a COVID-19 infection. The discrepancy between persistent breathing problems and normal lung function suggests there may be a different underlying cause, such as dysfunctional breathing,” Dr. Schlegtendal concludes.
The team presented their findings at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.