Multidisciplinary management of laryngeal pathology identified in patients with COVID-19 following trans-laryngeal intubation and tracheostomy
COVID-19 disease often requires invasive ventilatory support. Trans-laryngeal intubation of the trachea may cause laryngeal injury, possibly compounded by coronavirus infection. Fibreoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) provides anatomical and functional assessment of the larynx, guiding multidisciplinary management. Our aims were to observe the nature of laryngeal abnormalities in patients with COVID-19 following prolonged trans-laryngeal intubation and tracheostomy, and to describe their impact on functional laryngeal outcomes, such as tracheostomy weaning.
A retrospective observational cohort analysis was undertaken between March and December 2020, at a UK tertiary hospital. The Speech and Language Therapy team assessed patients recovering from COVID-19 with voice/swallowing problems identified following trans-laryngeal intubation or tracheostomy using FEES. Laryngeal pathology, treatments, and outcomes relating to tracheostomy and oral feeding were noted.
Twenty-five FEES performed on 16 patients identified a median of 3 (IQR 2–4) laryngeal abnormalities, with 63% considered clinically significant. Most common pathologies were: oedema (n = 12, 75%); abnormal movement (n = 12, 75%); atypical lesions (n = 11, 69%); and erythema (n = 6, 38%). FEES influenced management: identifying silent aspiration (88% of patients who aspirated (n = 8)), airway patency issues impacting tracheostomy weaning (n = 8, 50%), targeted dysphagia therapy (n = 7, 44%); ENT referral (n = 6, 38%) and reflux management (n = 5, 31%).
FEES is beneficial in identifying occult pathologies and guiding management for laryngeal recovery. In our cohort, the incidence of laryngeal pathology was higher than a non-COVID-19 cohort with similar characteristics. We recommend multidisciplinary investigation and management of patients recovering from COVID-19 who required prolonged trans-laryngeal intubation and/or tracheostomy to optimise laryngeal recovery.