A prospective examination of swallow and cough dysfunction after lung transplantation

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2022 Sep 27;e14458. doi: 10.1111/nmo.14458. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Swallow and cough dysfunction are possible surgical complications of lung transplantation (LT). We examined voluntary cough strength, sensorimotor reflexive cough integrity, and swallow-related respiratory rate (RR) across swallowing safety and aspiration response groups in recovering LT recipients.

Methods: Forty-five LT recipients underwent flexible endoscopic evaluation of swallowing indexed by the validated Penetration Aspiration Scale. RR before and after a 3-ounce water drinking task was measured. Voluntary and reflexive cough screening were performed to index motor and sensory outcomes. T-tests, one-way ANOVAs, and chi-square (odds ratios) were used.

Results: 60% of patients exhibited laryngeal penetration (n = 27) and 40% demonstrated tracheal aspiration (n = 18); 72% (n = 13) demonstrated silent aspiration. Baseline RR was higher in aspirators versus non-aspirators (26.5 vs. 22.6, p = 0.04) and in silent aspirators compared to non-silent aspirators (27.9 vs. 20.7, p = 0.01). RR change post-swallowing did not differ between aspiration response groups; however, it was significantly higher in aspirators compared to non-aspirators (3 vs. -2, p = 0.02). Compared to non-silent aspirators, silent aspirators demonstrated reduced voluntary cough peak expiratory flow (PEF; 166 vs. 324 L/min, p = 0.01). PEF, motor and urge to cough reflex cough ratings did not differ between aspirators and non-aspirators. Silent aspirators demonstrated a 7.5 times higher odds of failing reflex cough screening compared to non-silent aspirators (p = 0.07).

Conclusions: During the acute recovery period, all LT participants demonstrated some degree of unsafe swallowing and reduced voluntary cough strength. Silent aspirators exhibited elevated RR, reduced voluntary cough physiologic capacity to defend the airway, and a clinically distinguishable blunted motor response to reflex cough screening.

Keywords: aspiration; cough; dysphagia; lung transplant; respiratory; swallow.