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After COVID-19

Symptoms: Eating, drinking, and swallowing problems

If you were in the hospital for COVID-19, you may have had a breathing tube attached to a ventilator (a machine that helps you breathe). If you did, you may have some trouble swallowing food, drinks or medicine. This is because the​ muscles that help with swallowing may have become weak. You may notice that you:

  • cough or choke when you eat or drink
  • have a wet-sounding voice after eating or drinking
  • have a lot of chest infections and this isn’t normal for you
  • feel like things are sticking in your throat when you eat or drink

Swallowing and nutrition

Swallowing problems can make it hard for you to get good nutrition. Eating well and drinking enough fluids are important to help you recover from COVID-19. If you have trouble swallowing, try these tips to help you get nutrition safely:

  • Sit up when you eat or drink. Never eat or drink lying down.
  • Stay sitting up, standing, or walking for at least 30 minutes after you eat.
  • Choose soft, smooth, or moist foods as you start your recovery, or chop food into very small pieces.
  • Focus on eating and don’t do other things like watching TV, reading, or talking at the same time.
  • Take your time eating and drinking. Take small bites of food. Chew your food well before you swallow. Take small sips of your drink between bites of food.
  • Make sure there’s no food left in your mouth before you take another bite or sip. If you need to, swallow again.
  • Eat when you feel alert and well rested.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day, if eating full meals makes you tired.
  • If you cough or choke, or it’s hard to breathe when you eat and drink, take a break to recover.

Swallowing and infections

When your swallowing muscles are weak, your body also has trouble protecting your airway from food, drinks, or saliva. Swallowing problems also put you at higher risk for choking and lung infections.

You have 2 tubes that connect from the back of your throat:

  • 1 for breathing that goes to your lungs (called the trachea)
  • 1 for swallowing that goes to your stomach (called the esophagus)

You have muscles for swallowing that make food, water, and saliva go to the tube to your stomach and stop them from going to your lungs. When those are weak, the food, water, and saliva can go into your lungs. This can make you choke and cause lung infections. Follow the tips for swallowing and nutrition (above) to protect your airway if you’re having trouble with swallowing. This will help stop choking and lung infections.

You can also lower your risk of getting an infection if food, fluid, or saliva enters your airway by:

  • brushing your teeth after every meal
  • drinking lots of water

And doing these things helps to keep your mouth healthy.

If you continue to have concerns with your swallowing, contact your healthcare provider or a speech-language pathologist or call the Alberta Health Services Rehabilitation Advice Line.​​​

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