Melomed Articles

4 May 2020 - Dr. Tony  Tom

What The Media Never Told You About Covid-19..

The most concerning element for us as we navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic is trying to understand something that's so new to the world. We turn to medical experts for advice but see that even they are struggling to fully grasp the inner workings and results of this virus and how it will affect us in the years to come. 

We are all learning as we go with this, and a part of that is based on developing an acute level of self-awareness where our own health is concerned. Too often, we are a nation of walk it off! It'll be fine! I don't want to cause a fuss! This attitude may have seen us through many things in life, but COVID-19 has changed all that. It's time to start tuning into our bodies, recognising serious signs of danger early on and taking action. We can save our own lives and the lives of others if we change our mindset now. 

Many of the patients who have died from COVID-19 have done so because they did not respond to the signs that were telling them it was time to go to hospital. The breathing difficulty, hyperventilating and colour changes in hands and lips are all signals that it's time to seek medical help, but these patients didn't realise, or hoped it would ease, and they paid the ultimate price. 

COVID-19 affects our respiratory system meaning one of the body's primary reactions to the virus is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. By understanding what this is, how to recognise the signs and take immediate action, it could literally be the difference between life and death. 

What is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?
Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or "ARDS," is a serious lung condition. It is caused by a build-up of fluid on the lungs. This build-up of fluid on the lungs can cause serious problems because it can prevent oxygen from getting into the blood. Without oxygen, the organs in the body do not get what they need and as a result can start to shut down.

What Causes ARDS?
There are a number of conditions that can cause ARDS, but the most common causes are:
  • Infection and Sepsis - Sepsis is a serious illness that occurs when an infection spreads throughout the body. Different kinds of infections, including viruses, can result in the development of sepsis. Sepsis can also be caused by something as simple as not cleaning a cut properly and the bacteria getting into the bloodstream. 
  • Breathing vomit into the lungs
  • A lung infection (pneumonia)
  • Serious accident or injury

  • What are the Symptoms of ARDS?
    Common symptoms of ARDS include:
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Breathing at a much faster rate than normal or hyperventilating
  • The lips and/or fingertips taking on a slightly blue tinge. (Due to lack of oxygen flow.)

  • Dependent on the cause of the acute respiratory distress syndrome, there can be other symptoms at play including a fever and/or cough, such is present in COVID-19 patients. 

    Should I See a Doctor?
    Yes, as soon as possible. Many people who develop ARDS are already in hospital. If you are suffering any of the above symptoms but are not in a hospital, you (or the person with you) should call the doctor immediately.
    If your doctor is not able to see you right away or you cant reach them on the phone do not wait. Go directly to your nearest ER department. 

    Is There a Test for ARDS?
    Yes. The doctor will examine you and perform a chest X-ray. They may also conduct a CT scan of your lungs. A CT scan is an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the body.
    Dependent on the severity of your symptoms the doctor may also decide to conduct further tests to determine whats causing the ARDS.

    How is ARDS Treated?
    ARDS is treated in hospital, usually in the intensive care unit ("ICU" for short).
    People who have difficulty breathing may be treated with high amounts of oxygen. Those who are severely struggling to breathe usually require a breathing tube. A breathing tube is inserted through the mouth and travels down the throat and into the lungs. The other end of the tube is attached to a machine known as a ventilator or life support machine that provides mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs when the patient is physically unable to breathe independently.

    When the tube is in place people are not able to eat or talk. They are also usually sedated for their own comfort. This means that the doctor has given them medicine to make them very sleepy which helps them not feel pain or anxiety. Once people can breathe on their own again, the doctor can remove the tube and take them off the ventilator.

    If the ARDS is caused by another less serious condition that can be treated without the use of oxygen then the doctor will treat it without needing to admit the patient to the ICU. For example, lung infections might be treated with antibiotics or other medicines and dependent on their severity, hospital stays may be short or unnecessary. But always ensure to go to hospital immediately to be assessed by a medical professional if you are having any difficulty breathing. 

    What Problems can Occur in People with ARDS?
    A number of problems can occur during treatment. For example, people may develop a lung infection contracted via germs in the hospital. Another issue is that organs in the body may stop working due to lack of oxygen flow. 

    Although some people with ARDS do not recover, many do. But people who get better will often have long-term lung problems caused by their ARDS. They may also find they are physically weaker than they were prior to the ARDS and notice they suffer from concentration and thinking problems, which is a direct result of the brain not getting enough oxygen when they were ill.

    The message is clear. If at any point you feel unusually short of breath or are struggling to breathe then call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately. COVID-19 deaths are more preventable if you take action the moment you notice any of the symptoms listed in this article. If you do that, you give yourself and your medical carers the best chance of successfully treating you.


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