COVID-19 Breathing Problems
Breathing problems affect millions of people in the United States each year and countless more around the world. From COPD and asthma to bronchitis and everything in between, these individuals must live with wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and more. And the situation has only become more challenging with the rise of the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 causes breathing problems in some patients similar to what patients with bronchitis experience.
Breathing Problems and COVID-19
COVID-19 is caused by a “novel coronavirus”. This virus, while different, is related to other viruses that most Americans are familiar with, including the SARS virus. When the virus enters the body, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, including no visible symptoms all the way up to severe, life-threatening pneumonia.
Causes of Breathing Problems
With COVID-19, the primary cause of breathing problems is the fact that the virus causes a respiratory infection. This can affect both the upper and lower respiratory systems. The virus enters through the nose or mouth, where it immediately contacts and infects the mucous membranes here. It establishes a foothold, and then begins to invade nearby cells, using them to replicate itself.
The process moves downward through the airways as the infection grows. Each new cell allows the virus to colonize new ground, moving from the mucous membrane at the back of your throat down into your longs, then into the alveoli that are responsible for supplying oxygen to your blood and for removing carbon dioxide.
As the virus moves downward, the tissues of your throat, lungs, and airways become inflamed. This is part of your body’s natural response to threats, but it can lead to additional issues, including breathing problems.
Understanding the Range of Symptoms
As mentioned, COVID-19 can cause a broad range of problems. Some people will never experience a single symptom but can still spread the virus far and wide. However, the bulk of those infected, around 80% or so, will experience mild to moderate symptoms. These include a fever, a dry cough, and a sore throat.
In more serious cases, the inflammation of the lungs will lead to an infection, which becomes either pneumonia or bronchitis. Doctors will track the spread of inflammation through the lungs and airways using CT scans or chest X-rays.
Further Symptoms and Conditions
For very severe cases, about 14% of COVID-19 patients overall, the infection will become severe. Both lungs will be affected, and fluid and debris will build up, causing breathing problems and other concerns. The air sacs in the lungs will fill with mucous, as well as dead and dying immune system cells. It becomes difficult to breathe or you may feel like you’re short of breath.
In the most serious cases, about 5%, the infection will actually cause damage to the lung walls and to the lining within the lung’s air sacs. This can lead to scar tissue, which creates even more breathing problems. Depending on the situation, your doctor may diagnose either ARDS or severe pneumonia. You will usually require a ventilator at this point, as well.
Common Treatments for COVID-19 Breathing Problems
Currently, there are no specific treatments that target COVID-19. The most common treatments are those used for treating pneumonia and ARDS. Oxygen therapy may be necessary, and anti-inflammatory medication will likely be used. In some cases, antibiotics may be used, but these do nothing to fight the virus, only bacterial infections that the virus has exacerbated.
How Might Stem Cell Therapy Help Patients with Breathing Problems?
Stem cells are being researched for their use in combatting a very wide range of diseases and health conditions. These are the body’s building blocks, and they can transform into any type of tissue needed. They can also repair and regenerate damage cells throughout the body. They have a wide range of functions that makes them well-suited to treating breathing problems caused by COVID-19, including the following:
- Anti-Inflammatory - Stem cells have strong anti-inflammatory properties that allow them to reduce inflammation throughout the entire body, including in the lungs and airways.
- Healing Damaged Cells - Stem cells can help regenerate damaged parts of the body, including lung tissue, helping to limit symptoms of COVID-19.
- Reduced Scar Tissue - If left unmitigated, COVID-19 can lead to scarring of the lung tissue, which leads to additional breathing problems. Stem cells have shown promise in healing damaged tissue and replacing dying cells, thereby reducing the formation of scar tissue.
The Right Stem Cells Matter
While all stem cells offer healing and regenerative capabilities, they are not the same. Autologous stem cells, often sourced from a patient’s own fat and bone marrow tissue, are less energetic and suffer from more mutations and damage. This makes them less capable of healing and more likely to cause an immune system reaction.
Allogeneic stem cells are harvested from umbilical cord blood and tissue. This makes them young and energetic, capable of delivering maximum healing capabilities. They are also invisible to the immune system, reducing the chance of a negative response.
Stem cell therapy may have the potential to heal damaged lung tissue and eliminate inflammation-causing breathing difficulties for COVID-19 patients. However, it is also important for patients and their families to understand that all stem cell treatments in the United States at this time are experimental only and must not replace normal established treatments. The FDA has not approved stem cell therapy to treat any specific condition outside of some cancers. It is also important to choose the right physician. Ideally, you’ll choose a medical practitioner who has experience with stem cell therapy, but also with allogeneic stem cells.