What Happens If You Get COVID-19?

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we constantly learn new things about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and adjust to the new normal. The most important thing we know so far? COVID-19 is no ordinary flu, cold, or allergy. Anyone can get sick, but it can be more dangerous for certain groups of people, including the elderly and immunocompromised. 

So, what happens to you if you get sick? Symptoms vary, depending on certain risk factors, such as age, vaccination status, and existing medical conditions. Some experience mild to moderate symptoms and recover at home, while others go through a deadly phase, spending days in the hospital to fight for their lives. 

To avoid it or take care of ourselves in case we get infected, we need to understand exactly how this virus gets into our system and what it does to our bodies. In this blog, I’ll explain what may happen when someone gets sick with COVID-19. 

What is an Upper Respiratory Virus?

An upper respiratory tract infection affects the upper part of our respiratory system, including the nose, throat, and sinuses. Coronaviruses like SARS and MERS are usually the common causes of colds affecting this part of our bodies. SARS-CoV-2 is no different. The thing is, these viruses can move from the upper respiratory tract to the lower respiratory tract, and attack our lungs.

woman wearing blanket coughing

Upper Respiratory Infection vs. Lower Respiratory Infection

Interestingly, COVID-19 can transition from an upper respiratory to a lower respiratory infection. When you go to a doctor with a cough, cold, and a sore throat, you will be immediately diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract illness. Many people recover from that. When it reaches your lower respiratory system, that’s when you get into trouble. That means the virus has started attacking your lungs, causing breathing problems. 

How Do Viruses Get into Your Body?

Viruses don’t have their own machinery. They need a convenient mode of entry to get into our bodies, so they find a way to latch on. Think about getting into a large cargo boat in the ocean. You’re swimming in the water, trying to get into the boat. Which way should you go? How would you force your way inside? 

Depending on your skill set, you’re sure to find the easiest way to get into the boat. Most respiratory viruses force their way in by invading the mucosa of our noses. That’s how they enter our bodies. 

Most people get upper respiratory illnesses because they inhale a droplet that an infected person aerosolized. Occasionally, individuals get infected by shaking someone else’s hand or touching random objects and then putting their hands on their nose and mouth. 

If you have enough viral load, SARS-CoV-2 can bind to the epithelial cells of your nose, mouth, and back of your throat. It can spread once it gets there, affecting other parts of your body. For instance, it can reach your olfactory nerves and make you lose your sense of smell.

What Happens if Coronavirus Gets into Your Lungs?

COVID-19 can be simple nasal congestion and sinus infection or a severe, life-threatening illness that disables the lungs. A condition confined to the nose, sinuses, and the back of the throat is considered mild. The issue starts when it invades your trachea, bronchi, and lungs.

man wearing mask

But the severity depends on how far that lung involvement goes. This is the reason why you need to continuously monitor your situation. Is it getting better or worse? Is your oxygen level dropping? These are the things to be concerned about. 

COVID-19 can cripple the lungs, causing long-term symptoms such as fatigue and breathlessness. In some cases, it contributes to multi-organ failure and results in death. Unfortunately, many COVID-19 patients die of multi-organ failure, the dysfunction of multiple organ systems. It’s a leading cause of death for those with severe COVID-19, with a mortality rate as high as 50%.

Lungs are the first organ to fail 95% of the time. Then, others follow suit, usually the kidneys and the liver. It’s possible to recover if the lungs are the only organ that fails. However, it can get dangerous if your blood pressure starts to drop or any other organ also deteriorates. 

When Should You Be Concerned?

First, you need to understand if your upper respiratory condition slowly becomes a lower respiratory infection. Once you develop a cough and experience shortness of breath, in addition to a runny nose, sinus congestion, and sore throat, then you already have both an upper and lower respiratory infection. 

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Check your oxygen levels regularly to make sure that everything is normal. One of the most useful, affordable supplies you can get in the pharmacy to monitor your condition is a pulse oximeter. If your oxygen level drops around 80%, that means there’s severe lung involvement and that you should seek immediate medical attention. 

What Should You Do if you Test Positive for COVID-19?

Treat COVID-19 like any other respiratory infection. Remember that coronaviruses have been with us for a long time. The main concern here is that a new version that is more lethal suddenly showed up. Stay hydrated, stick to a healthy diet, and get enough rest. Monitor your condition while in isolation. If it advances, reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. 

A vast majority of individuals who get lower respiratory infections recover, but if you’re at huge risk for severe COVID-19, take extra care of yourself and be ready to seek medical care as soon as needed.

Avoid Getting COVID-19, As Much As You Can

Avoid getting exposed to the virus as much as you can. While many people get better by themselves, it’s still best to be cautious. Stay on top of the safety guidelines. Moreover, wear a mask and get vaccinated to protect yourself and the people around you. Every action you take, no matter how small, matters.

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Jonathan Baktari MD

Jonathan Baktari, MD brings over 20 years of clinical, administrative and entrepreneurial experience to lead the current e7 Health team. He has been a triple board-certified physician with specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has been the Medical Director of The Valley Health Systems, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Culinary Health Fund and currently is the CEO of two healthcare companies.
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