Swallowing, communication and mouth care

Some people who have had Covid-19 may later have difficulties eating and drinking. You may have managed to eat and drink enough whilst in hospital, or you might have needed a tube to feed you; if we stop using our muscles, they often become weak. Swallowing uses many different muscles and it can therefore be difficult if we have not had anything to eat or drink for a period of time. Eating and drinking might take more effort than usual; you may become tired more easily or feel breathless at times. There are things you can do to help manage this at home.

Top tips for eating and drinking comfortably:

  • Always sit up fully for any food or drink
  • Eat or drink at a slower pace
  • Stop and rest if you are feeling breathless or tired
  • Try and eat smaller amounts often throughout the day, rather than three normal meals
  • Take small sips or bites
  • If you are getting tired or out of breath when chewing, try eating softer foods which need to be chewed less

If you are following this advice but still having swallowing problems, or you have any of the following symptoms, please contact your GP:

Mouth care is important as it can prevent dryness and future infections. Breathing masks can dry out your mouth so it is particularly important to keep it clean if you have had any help with your breathing in hospital.

To look after your mouth:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day using toothpaste
  • Drink plenty of fluids (regular sips throughout the day)
  • If you wear dentures, remove them and clean both the dentures and your mouth twice a day and always take dentures out at night
  • Use lip balm if your lips are dry

If you are following the above advice and your mouth is still dry, contact your GP.

Communication

Communication refers to speech, voice and language. Talking can be more difficult if you are breathless. Your voice might sound weak, quiet, rough or hoarse. You may have a sore throat if you have been coughing a lot or if you needed a breathing tube in hospital.

A good breath is very important in helping us to speak in a clear voice that can be easily heard and understood by others. You may feel that your voice is weak and your speech is not as clear as it used to be. This should improve as your symptoms resolve.

Some strategies of how to look after your voice and use clear speech:

  • Sit in an upright position and take a breath before talking
  • Speak in shorter sentences
  • Reduce background noise when communicating with others
  • Avoid shouting or forcing your voice out
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake
  • If your voice feels tired, stop, rest and try later

For more information: https://www.yourcovidrecovery.nhs.uk/managing-the-effects/effects-on-your-body/voice-and-swallowing/