Since the emergence of Covid-19, both individuals with a diagnosis of the virus, and professionals treating them, have reported changes in individual’s speech, communication and swallowing.
It is important to highlight that these changes vary significantly depending on how severely affected by the virus the individual has been. The majority of individuals diagnosed with Covid-19 have not required hospitalisation or any specialised medical support.
For the small amount of individuals who have required hospitalisation or been admitted to intensive care, it is likely that they will experience longer term difficulties. These individuals will be referred on to appropriate rehabilitation services following discharge from hospital.
This advice is compiled by a team of UK voice specialist Speech and Language Therapists from the UK Voice Clinical Excellence Network.
As a result of the COVID-19 virus you may experience some temporary changes to the sound of your voice, and to your comfort and effort levels when using it. These changes are similar to the changes you would expect to experience with a cold or flu, but are expected to be more intense and longer lasting. We anticipate that these voice problems may take 6 – 8 weeks to gradually resolve. The following advice will help your vocal recovery.
Vocal cords sit in the voice box (also known as your larynx or Adam’s apple) at the top of the wind pipe.
In order to produce voice, we bring the vocal cords together and gently blow air through them from the lungs below, which causes their delicate membranes to vibrate. This vibration is the sound of the human voice.
When you have COVID-19 you are likely to experience excessive and prolonged attacks of coughing. Coughing brings the vocal folds forcefully together to allow strong expulsion of air, clearing any mucus from your lungs and throat. This level of coughing gives the vocal cords quite a battering; consequently, they can become swollen and inflamed.
When vocal cords become swollen and inflamed, they become stiff and less flexible. This means that they are unable to vibrate freely, so the sound of the voice changes, often becoming rougher and deeper-pitched or possibly no more than a whisper. It can feel uncomfortable and hard work to speak when your vocal cords are in this state.
It is thought this is caused by the body’s reaction to the virus as well as experiencing post viral fatigue. More general information can be found on the fatigue page.
Symptoms reported include:
Generally this will get better over time as your body generally recovers from the virus. However if this does not improve visit your GP to discuss options for further support you can access.
Strategies to support ‘Brain fog’
In some circumstances after a diagnosis of Covid-19 people may experience difficulty swallowing, particularly if a person has spent time in hospital and on ITU. If someone has experienced severe difficulties breathing in hospital they may have had support to help them breathe (intubation or tracheostomy). If someone has been very unwell they may have also needed a tube to help feed them and may not have had anything to eat and drink for a while.
We use many different muscles when we chew and swallow food, and if we haven’t done this for a while, the muscles can become weaker and swallowing may be more effortful. Furthermore, after a long hospital stay people can experience general deconditioning, which can have a negative impact on their ability to swallow.
Speech and Language Therapists can assess a person’s swallowing and may offer methods to help make eating and drinking easier or safer. Advice for people experiencing swallowing difficulties (Dysphagia).
If you are experiencing changes to taste and smell following Covid-19 you can find further advice and information here.
Adult Speech and Language Therapy Department
University Hospital of Wales
Heath Park Way
Telephone: 02920 743012