Objective: To evaluate the presentations and outcomes of inpatients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) presenting with dysphonia and dysphagia to investigate trends and inform potential pathways for ongoing care.
Design: Observational cohort study.
Setting: An inner-city National Health Service Hospital Trust in London, United Kingdom.
Participants: All adult inpatients hospitalized with COVID-19 (N=164) who were referred to Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) for voice and/or swallowing assessment for 2 months starting in April 2020.
Interventions: SLT assessment, advice, and therapy for dysphonia and dysphagia.
Main outcome measures: Evidence of delirium, neurologic presentation, intubation, tracheostomy, and proning history were collected, along with type of SLT provided and discharge outcomes. Therapy outcome measures were recorded for swallowing and tracheostomy pre- and post-SLT intervention and Grade Roughness Breathiness Asthenia Strain Scale for voice.
Results: Patients (N=164; 104 men) aged 56.8±16.7 years were included. Half (52.4%) had a tracheostomy, 78.7% had been intubated (mean, 15±6.6d), 13.4% had new neurologic impairment, and 69.5% were delirious. Individualized compensatory strategies were trialed in all and direct exercises with 11%. Baseline assessments showed marked impairments in dysphagia and voice, but there was significant improvement in all during the study (P<.0001). On average, patients started some oral intake 2 days after initial SLT assessment (interquartile range [IQR], 0-8) and were eating and drinking normally on discharge, but 29.3% (n=29) of those with dysphagia and 56.1% (n=37) of those with dysphonia remained impaired at hospital discharge. A total of 70.9% tracheostomized patients were decannulated, and the median time to decannulation was 19 days (IQR, 16-27). Among the 164 patients, 37.3% completed SLT input while inpatients, 23.5% were transferred to another hospital, 17.1% had voice, and 7.8% required community follow-up for dysphagia.
Conclusions: Inpatients with COVID-19 present with significant impairments of voice and swallowing, justifying responsive SLT. Prolonged intubations and tracheostomies were the norm, and a minority had new neurologic presentations. Patients typically improved with assessment that enabled treatment with individualized compensatory strategies. Services preparing for COVID-19 should target resources for tracheostomy weaning and to enable responsive management of dysphagia and dysphonia with robust referral pathways.
Keywords: COVID-19; Deglutition disorders; Dysphagia; Dysphonia; Rehabilitation; Speech language pathology; Tracheostomy.
Copyright © 2021 American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.