Scientists find the cause of persistent breathlessness after COVID-19

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In a new study from Imperial College London, researchers found long-lasting immune activity in the airways might be the cause of persistent breathlessness following COVID-19.

This is according to a new study of 38 people who were previously hospitalized with severe COVID-19.

The results suggest these patients have an altered landscape of immune cells in their airways and signs of ongoing lung damage. However, the preliminary results hint that this might improve over time.

Previous studies have examined the causes of post-COVID-19 breathlessness by looking at markers in the blood, but the new study looks directly at which immune cells are active in the lungs too.

In the study, the team examined 38 post-COVID-19 patients three to six months after they left the hospital and 29 healthy volunteers.

They looked at CT scans of the lungs and how well the lungs functioned, as well as analyzing samples of fluid from within the lungs and blood samples to determine the presence of nearly 500 proteins.

The team found that many months after SARS-CoV-2 infection, there were still abnormal immune cells in the airways of patients with persistent breathlessness.

They also identified a protein ‘signature’ in the lungs indicating ongoing injury to the airways.

These findings suggest that persistent breathlessness in our group of COVID-19 patients is being caused by failure to turn off the immune response, which leads to airway inflammation and injury.

The next steps of the research will be to see if there are treatments that can reduce the immune activity and whether they help to reduce the persistent breathlessness some patients experience.

If you care about COVID, please read studies about why smokers have a lower risk of COVID-19, and findings of COVID vaccines less effective for people with these two health issues.

For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about drug that can block multiple COVID-19 variants, and results showing this drug duo may treat COVID-19 effectively.

The study is published in Immunity and was conducted by Dr. James Harker et al.

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