Early results of a few small studies offer a glimmer of hope that, in at least some cases, patients with lung damage caused by Covid-19 showed signs of recovery, especially with intensive aftercare and exercise.
Lingering shortness of breath and diminished stamina have dogged many Covid-19 patients, and doctors have worried that the lung damage might be irreversible.
In one of the studies, a group of doctors at the University Clinic of Internal Medicine in Innsbruck, Austria, observed similar improvements in their 86 patients.
Even after rehabilitation, many were still coughing and short of breath as they went home, equipped with exercise instructions and breathing devices — small, inexpensive plastic tubes that require one to breathe in and out with force.
But as they came back for checkups weeks later, their CT scans showed improvement, doctors said. Fluids were clearing from their lungs, and the white-glass lesions often seen in Covid pneumonia were lessening, sometimes disappearing entirely and sometimes noticeable only as thin white bands.
“There are some signs of reversible damage,” said Dr. Thomas Sonnweber, a co-author of the study. At the time the patients were discharged from the hospital, 88 percent had lung damage, but 12 weeks later, only 56 percent did.
Their symptoms also improved. They coughed less, breathed and walked more easily, in some cases with markedly improved endurance.
Longer range studies still have to be conducted to assess the potential for permanent effects.