Short of breath after having COVID-19? The virus could have damaged the vagus nerve to your vocal cords, according to a study published in the International Journal of Pulmonary & Respiratory Sciences. Studies have found that when the vagus nerve, which controls the voice, swallowing, breathing and coughing, is damaged, the vocal cords may fail to retract. Then the patient can’t breathe correctly.
Vocal cords work by constricting the airway as you talk or sing. As the air moves past the cords, the vibrations create the sounds you make. When you are not making noises, the vocal cords retract, letting air flow into the lungs.
According to study author Dr. Jonathan Aviv, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, in some COVID-19 patients, the nerve that regulates speech becomes damaged, and the vocal cords close off the throat even when a person isn’t talking. Dr. Aviv and his colleagues have a solution: speech therapy. In their study, the researchers used speech therapy and, oddly enough, diet to treat 18 patients who had vocal cord damage as a result of COVID-19.
Apparently, some foods irritate the vagus nerve even further, especially those that are highly acidic, like canned or bottled drinks, citrus fruits, tomato sauce, vinegar and wine.
Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonologist with the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, commented that doctors at first did not understand why some COVID-19 patients kept feeling short of breath when their lung scans seemed fine. The researchers thought the problem might lie in the vocal cords. They ran a tiny camera down into the airways of 18 COVID-19 “long haulers” to find out. The resulting images showed that the patients’ vocal cords were not reacting properly.
Vocal cord dysfunction of this kind can be repaired with a series of vocal exercises called respiratory retraining.
Added Dr. Khabbaza:
“If you’re stuck with shortness of breath, I think this sounds like something that is worth investigating because we know it responds very well to speech therapy.”
He suggests that recovered COVID-19 patients with shortness of breath for no obvious reason ask their doctors about looking into the state of their vocal cords.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.