COVID-19 long haulers share experiences of inhalers, hazy lung X-rays

People who recover from COVID-19 may still feel the impact of the virus even several months later, says doctors and those who are being  referred to as "long haulers."

Recovering from COVID-19 is one battle, but how you adapt to how your body operates afterward can be another challenge.

A Valley pulmonologist, a lung doctor, says the damage done to your lungs by the virus is just as bad, if not worse, than smoking cigarettes.

Valley residents talk about long-term COVID-19 symptoms

"It has truly affected every aspect of my life," says 38-year-old Tiffany Jumper. She spent two weeks in the ICU back in July fighting COVID-19.

Six months later, she's attached to supplemental oxygen day and night.

RELATED: Arizona reports record deaths, leads nation in new case rate

"I wanna live in the pre-COVID state of my body where I could do all things. I was unstoppable. I've got four kids, I'm a librarian, I could do everything and I get really exhausted really fast," Jumper explained, adding that her memory is foggy and she hasn't been cleared to go back to work.

Also feeling the fatigue is 33-year-old Candie Flemm who was infected around Thanksgiving. She struggles going up the stairs and now relies on her inhaler daily.

"Even when I talk now, I take a lot a lot more breaths than normal and deeper breaths and I'm a singer. Now I'm having to retrain myself how to sing because I can't get enough air to come in," she said.

Seen in an X-ray of lungs that have been through COVID-19, a haze of white patches caused by the virus, according to Dr. Heemesh Seth, a pulmonologist with HonorHealth.

LIST: Coronavirus testing locations in Arizona

He says the white haze represents the "inflammation the virus is causing inside the lung" and that this type of inflammation is not seen in smokers' lungs.

"The amount of damage it does initially, way worse than in somebody who smoked, but it can be exponential in patients who already have underlying smoker's lungs or emphysema or damaged lungs," Seth explained.

A full recovery of the lungs simply takes time, he said.

But for now, life remains different for Flemm and Jumper. Flemm uses an inhaler when she tries to fall asleep at night and Jumper fears this could be her new normal.

Wondering how you can improve your lung health? Seth says to do your best to exercise within your limits to improve lung capacity and stay healthy.

CDC: How coronavirus spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ