The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have brought to light an impending health emergency: the worsening of pulmonary health, especially after experiencing Covid, compounded by the increasing effects of climate change and air pollution.
As survivors grapple with the aftermath of the virus, a growing number face persistent respiratory challenges, emphasising the urgent need for targetted interventions and a holistic approach to post-Covid lung care.
Rise of pulmonary illness
Speaking to South First, Dr Ravindra Mehta, a leading pulmonologist in the country from Bengaluru, who recently set up VAAYU Pulmonary Wellness and Rehabilitation Centre — a unique centre for holistic care for pulmonary health — says, “Post Covid-19, there are several patients coming in with what is called interstitial lung disease (ILD), also known as pulmonary fibrosis.”
Is this disease specific to post-Covid conditions? Dr Mehta responds, “This disease, which has been around for many years, has come to focus only after Covid-19, when survivors of severe Covid infections were found to have this disease and people came to know about it.”
Explaining further about ILD, he says that it is caused due to inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue, where a spongy lung becomes scarred and leads to stiffening. With symptoms of shortness of breath and coughing, it is, ultimately, a progressive disease which can be life-threatening.
“Some ILDs can be compared to cancers as they can do more damage in a short span of time than cancer. There are several patients coming in with not just ILDs but lung diseases due to various environmental insults, including air pollution, infections, and allergens,” says Dr Mehta.
He adds, “Asthma and COPD are among the world’s biggest health concerns today. Post-Covid, there has been an explosion of lung diseases and there is an immediate need for innovative methods to treat lung diseases.”
Adding to this, Dr Shivalinga Swamy, Pulmonologist at Trustwell Hospital, says, “Post-Covid lung fibrosis has become a major debilitating respiratory illness, where survival is not more than five years. Treatment for this is absolutely essential.”
Various other Covid complications
Pulmonologists tell South First that long-term effects of Covid-19 infection could include new medical conditions like hypertension, lung fibrosis, and asthma, among several other manifestations.
Doctors claim that they are seeing more patients coming in with bronchiectasis, which is characterised by the widening and damage of the airways, leading to a build-up of excess mucus that can make the lungs more vulnerable to infection.
“In our clinical practice, we’re seeing a spectrum of post-acute respiratory effects in individuals who have had Covid-19. People are coming in with post-Covid asthma, which is a major comorbidity affecting day-to-day life. There has also been an increased risk of developing pulmonary embolism,” says Dr Swamy.
The doctors emphasise that the extent of damage varies from person to person and monitoring lung well-being and seeking immediate medical attention for any kind of respiratory symptom is key.
Need for pulmonary rehabilitation
Doctors attest to the fact that these respiratory complications mandate continuous monitoring and comprehensive management.
Though there are several clinical trials and abundant research ongoing to better understand and treat post-Covid pulmonary complications, doctors say that patients often require a multidisciplinary approach, including pulmonary rehabilitation, medications to manage symptoms, and adjustments to a new lifestyle.
A pulmonary rehabilitation programme is a comprehensive and structured approach to improving lung health and overall well-being of individuals with chronic respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease, bronchiectasis, etc.
The programme is specifically tailored to help patients manage their symptoms, enhance their lung function, increase exercise tolerance, and improve their overall quality of life.
Dr Mehta explains that this is exactly the reason why he set up the VAAYU Rehabilitation and Wellness Centre, “Pulmonary rehabilitation is not seen in major force in the city and in the country. So our aim was to start one of Bengaluru’s most qualified and skill-based pulmonary rehabilitation services. We have the best expertise here.”
Pulmonary rehabilitation programme
The key components of a pulmonary rehabilitation programme typically includes exercise training, where supervised exercise sessions are conducted to improve cardiovascular fitness, and endurance and muscle strength is worked on. Here, there are awareness and disease management sessions on the patient’s specific lung condition, symptoms, medications, and inhaler techniques are taught as well.
There are other techniques to manage and cope with shortness of breath, fatigue, and other symptoms, which are all explained in great detail as part of the programme.
Along with behavioural modification, activities of daily living, assessment, important screening tests, and accurate diagnosis is also part of the rehabilitation programme, explains Dr Mehta.
Dr Mehta adds that individualised treatment plans are key to addressing the varied manifestations of post-Covid lung disease. These plans may include pulmonary rehabilitation, respiratory therapies, medications, and lifestyle modifications, tailored to each patient’s unique needs and circumstances.