What is the role of a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) with COVID-19 patients in critical care and beyond?

Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) causes coughing and breathing difficulties. It puts strain on the lungs, larynx and vocal cords; anatomical components important for breathing, talking and swallowing effectively. Patients may lose appetite and sense of smell and taste and quickly become deconditioned.

The specialist role of SLTs is not only to treat speech and language disorders, but many throat disorders and diseases. We often employ visual methods to aid our diagnostic evaluation, although with Covid-19 patients we rely on clinical examination alone. Patients who require breathing support via a face mask, endotracheal tube or tracheostomy tube will have an alteration to their laryngeal physiology which can cause temporary or permanent damage. The SLT role is to provide therapeutic interventions to either help the system work again or compensate in another way.

For our patients this means being able to use their voice to speak to loved ones, finding the words to explain their pain, enjoying the pleasure of drink or food again – all these add quality to life after Covid.