Are COVID Lungs Worse Than A Smoker’s Lungs?

We are well over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Malaysia and researchers are still learning more and more about the long-term effects of the virus.

One of these effects is often referred to as “COVID lung”.

are covid lungs worse than a smoker’s lungs?Photo via Clinical OMICs

And some are even comparing the lungs of COVID-19 patients to that of long-time smokers.

Do people who recover from COVID have worse lung damage than long-time smokers?

According to CBS8, they can be, but not in all cases.

Pulmonary critical care doctor and chief operating executive at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, Dr. Scott Eisman said that he has seen a number of patients who have had this. 

“Typically it happens more commonly in patients who had a more severe version of COVID. For example, people who were on a ventilator for a long time or people who were on high levels of oxygen, which is what we call high flow oxygen,” he said. 

An x-ray of healthy lungs will show mostly black, which is air, however, in a smoker’s lungs, white lines are signs of scarring and congestion. Meanwhile, an x-ray of COVID lungs looks almost completely white. 

are covid lungs worse than a smoker’s lungs?

Dr. Eisman also noted that smoking versus COVID causes two different types of injuries.

“And it’s both this ongoing problem with the blood clotting and the structure of the lung being affected that is thought to create a long-term effect with COVID,” he said. 

In some cases, a patient’s x-ray may look bad, but they feel fine.

“It is true that in a certain number of people with COVID, they actually feel a lot better than their x-rays and they’re not as symptomatic as you might think for that kind of radiographics abnormality but we’ve also had it the other way where people are very short of breath, very low on oxygen levels and their x-ray is not all that overwhelming,” said Dr. Eisman. 

For those with COVID lungs, can the condition be reversed?

Dr. Eisman simply answered, “Yes, our lungs can repair themselves!”

However, with smokers, it's a permanent condition, “A person who has had damage to their lung from chronic cigarette inhalation, that will not get better,” he said. 

Though this is good news, we need to remember that researchers are learning more daily!

Dr. Eisman said that it is a good reminder to not just think about whether you’ll survive COVID-19, but also the long-term effects of it, too.

“We hear every day people focusing on things like the mortality of COVID and saying, ‘Well, it’s low in younger people’ which is true. But the consequences if you develop one of these long-term conditions can be really devastating for you and your family,” he said. 

It’s important that we take care of ourselves against the coronavirus. 

Remember to always abide by the SOPs, wear a face mask when you’re outside, maintain physical distance and wash your hands regularly!

But most importantly, get yourself vaccinated and stay home.

By: Aishah Akashah Ahadiat