How could COVID-19 affect my swallowing?
COVID can affect your breathing. This can interrupt the breathe-swallow pattern as you need to hold your breath momentarily while you swallow. Due to this you may find that you become breathless while eating and drinking or that it is hard to hold your breath to swallow or cough when you swallow.
You may have had a stay in Intensive Care (ICU). This can result in weakening of the muscles used for swallowing as they haven’t been used while you were unwell or asleep. Over time, the muscles will rebuild strength as you build up your intake.
If you had a breathing tube this can sometimes cause some bruising and swelling to your throat and voice box. Sometimes this can result in one or both of the vocal folds not moving properly, which can cause changes to your voice and reduced protection for your airway when you swallow. Usually these affects are temporary and will resolve over time.
Some descriptions of swallowing difficulties:
- Coughing or choking when eating and drinking
- Throat clearing when eating and drinking
- Gurgly/wet voice
- Recurrent chest infections
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Feeling as though food is getting stuck.
Swallowing advice from a Speech and Language Therapist:
- Make sure you are sat upright and that you are fully awake and alert when you are eating and drinking.
- Take your time and take small mouthfuls. It can be helpful to reduce distractions around you.
- You should avoid talking while eating and drinking as this opens the airway which could result in food or drink going “the wrong way”. Talking can also make you more breathless which can in turn impact on your swallowing.
- You may want to try making some modifications to the texture of your diet e.g. well chopped, softer consistencies, more moisture if your throat feels uncomfortable when you swallow.
- It is also very important to keep your mouth clean and healthy with regular tooth brushing. If you notice that your tongue is coated or your mouth looks unclean, speak to your GP or pharmacist.
- If you experience any persisting symptoms speak to your GP for a referral to Speech and Language Therapy for further assessment.