How does COVID affect my swallowing and my voice?
COVID can still affect your lungs and breathing as you start to get better.
If you were in hospital with COVID and stayed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), you might have needed a small tube that went into your windpipe to help you breathe.
Sometimes this tube can make your throat bruised and swollen, which means you might have:
- Problems with swallowing, eating, drinking and talking
- A sore throat or a cough that does not go away
- Feeling like you need to clear your throat
When you the leave hospital, there will be information in your discharge letter about looking after your throat and mouth. This information might include an appointment with the Speech and Language Therapy team.
Eating and drinking
When you eat and drink, you normally automatically hold your breath for a moment so that you do not choke. After having COVID, you might:
- Get breathless when you eat and drink
- Find it hard to hold your breath when you swallow
- Cough when you swallow
The muscles you need to swallow may have become weak if you have been coughing lots and become fatigued or experienced breathlessness. As you recover and begin to eat and drink again, your muscles will get stronger.
What can help me to eat and drink again?
- Make sure you sit upright and sit at a table if you can
- Make sure you are wide awake and alert when you are eating and drinking
- Do not talk when you are eating and drinking
- Take your time – have small mouthfuls of food and carefully sip your drink
- Try soft foods if you find you get tired chewing
- Eat lots of small meals a day instead of a few larger meals or have one main meal when you are wide awake and small snacks for the rest of the day
- Try to focus when you eat and drink
- It is important to keep your mouth clean and healthy by brushing your teeth regularly
When should I get help with swallowing?
If you have problems with swallowing and it does not get better, you should speak to your GP so they can refer you to the Speech and Language Therapy Team.
Problems to look out for are:
- Coughing when you eat or drink
- Choking on food
- If you get a lot of chest infections, this could be food and drink going down the wrong way
- Feeling food going down the wrong way or getting stuck in your throat
- Finding it difficult to chew your food
- Noticing a wet ‘gurgly’ voice after eating or drinking
The Speech and Language Therapy Team might suggest:
- Changes to the types of food and drinks you swallow
- Changes to the way you eat and drink, and your positioning
- Exercises to improve your swallowing
Why has my voice changed?
Your voice box is in your throat and helps you talk. If you were in hospital and needed a breathing tube, it might have caused some bruising and swelling to your throat and voice box. The tube can cause your voice to change, and it could become sore and weak. Some people who have been in hospital with COVID without needing a breathing tube also found that their voices became hoarse and or weak after coughing lots.
What can help my voice get better?
- Breathing in steam
- Not talking too much
- Drinking lots of water or warm drinks – avoiding drinks with caffeine such as coffee, tea or energy drinks
Usually, these problems will not last long and will get better.
If the problems do not get better, speak to your GP and ask for a referral to a Speech and Language Therapist or the Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) clinic.
What else can I do to help my voice and swallowing?
It is important to brush your teeth to keep your mouth clean and healthy.
If you notice that your tongue looks white, talk to your GP or pharmacist.
For more information about the types of food to eat, visit www.iddsi.org
Why does my throat feel sensitive?
We do not yet fully understand all the effects of COVID, but you may feel that your throat is more sensitive.
For example, if you come into contact with strong perfumes or smells– such as cleaning products – you may start to cough or feel like breathing is difficult.
You may also lose your sense of smell and taste, or they could change. If this lasts for more than eight weeks, contact your GP.