Speech-language pathologists look at long-term impacts of COVID-19 | KOB 4

Speech-language pathologists look at long-term impacts of COVID-19

Joy Wang
Updated: September 20, 2020 10:25 PM
Created: September 20, 2020 08:55 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As medical experts continue learning about the long-term effects of COVID-19, speech-language pathologists are focusing on one particular effect that impacts breathing and swallowing.

Speech and language pathologists’ caseloads can range between 70 and 100. They usually treat patients who have neurologic impairments or who have experienced a traumatic event.

“A lot of times after these really traumatic events, you know, prolonged intubation, acute illness, whatever it is—some of those patients have not eaten or drunk anything or even spoke since all this happened. A lot of them are on a breathing tube, and so when that breathing tube comes out the doctor has to kind of evaluate whether they're safe to eat and drink, whether they can start speaking,” said Michael Thomason, a speech-language pathologist at UNM.

When a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized, sometimes there’s a need for intubation.

"A lot of the patients that we see sure they might have underlying comorbidities, but there's also healthy individuals that get it as well," said Emily Cubbage, a speech-language pathologist.

“The act of breathing and the act of swallowing are actually very closely coordinated and since patients suffering from COVID tend to have a lot of respiratory symptoms they can struggle with the ability to support their body’s breathing needs in coordination with safe eating and drinking, so even if someone has not been intubated or required a mechanical ventilation, they can have trouble swallowing,” said Amanda Euler, a speech-language pathologist.

About 95 percent of COVID patients they’ve seen have been intubated.

“As time progressed, we got more and more busy and started seeing a lot more of these patients,” Thomason said.

Experts said there are still a lot of unknowns about the long-term effects of the virus.

“There's been some literature on potential neurologic involvement and people who have the infection,” Euler said.

Until the medical community has a better understanding of the impact, Thomason said people should continue taking the basic steps to protect themselves.

“Wearing a mask is not that hard. Just do it and potentially save lives,” he said.


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