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Signs You Had COVID Like Lionel Messi

Here’s what COVID-19 lung damage feels like.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Soccer superstar Lionel Messi is opening up about his struggles with long COVID, months after being infected in January. "It left me with after effects. It left me with after effects in my lungs. I came back and it was like a month and a half without even being able to run because my lungs were affected," Messi says. "I came back before I should have, and it got worse because I went too fast and it ended up setting me back. But I couldn't take it anymore, I wanted to run, to train—I wanted to get going. And in the end, it got worse." Here are five signs you had COVID like Messi, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


COVID In the Lungs

man using asthma machine at home.

Messi's particular symptom of long COVID is not unusual, doctors say. "Recovery from lung damage takes time," says lung disease expert Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., M.H.S. "There's the initial injury to the lungs, followed by scarring. Over time, the tissue heals, but it can take three months to a year or more for a person's lung function to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. Lung healing in of itself can produce symptoms. It is similar to a leg bone breaking, needing a cast for months, and having the cast come off. No one would expect to begin to run right away with the newly-healed leg bone. As the leg strengthens and muscle re-grows, patients will experience discomfort from this healing. This is what our lungs go through, too!"


Signs of Lung Issues

Patients lying on hospital bed with mask, looking at lung x-ray film during doctor reading result and advice a treatment

COVID-19 can cause bronchitis and pneumonia, sepsis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome, doctors say. "In COVID-19-related bronchitis, this is an issue of an excessive amount of sputum produced in the airways, resulting in coughing and chest congestion," says Dr. Galiatsatos. "The sputum also narrows the airways, making breathing more difficult. As for the bronchitis, patients may experience a cough that stays with them for months after the initial infection. This frequent cough and ongoing chest congestion may have an impact on one's quality of life."


Long COVID Lung Issues

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A recent study shows post-COVID abnormalities could be caused by microscopic damage to the lungs. "It is the first study to demonstrate lung abnormalities in [people with long Covid] who are breathless and where other investigations are unremarkable," says Dr Emily Fraser, a consultant at Oxford university hospitals and a co-author of the study. "It does suggest the virus is causing some kind of persistent abnormality within the microstructure of the lungs or in the pulmonary vasculature."


How Long Does Lung Damage Last?

Business woman working from home wearing protective mask

Long-term lung damage after getting infected with the virus could last years, experts warn. "These patients have never been in hospital and did not have an acute severe illness when they had their Covid-19 infection," says Professor Fergus Gleeson, radiologist at Oxford university hospitals NHS foundation trust and the study's chief investigator. "Some of them have been experiencing their symptoms for a year after contracting Covid-19."


Get Vaccinated and Boosted

Nurse with face mask sitting at home with senior woman and injecting covid 19 vaccine.

Being fully up to date with vaccinations and boosters can help prevent long COVID complications, experts say. "If you haven't been vaccinated and boosted, and certainly if you're over 50 or 60, or if you have some other significant medical issues, you should be very concerned," says Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. "If you're fully vaccinated, including a booster, you should be pretty confident that you're not going to get very sick if you do get an infection."


How to Stay Safe Out There


Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan