By Kate Hunger
Patients recovering from COVID-19 often require rehabilitation involving a range of therapies, according to a panel discussion hosted by the School of Health Professions.
Presented on Feb. 23, the panel discussion was moderated by School of Health Professions Dean David Shelledy, Ph.D., RRT, RPFT, FAARC, FASAHP.
COVID-19 symptoms that continue after recovery can include fatigue, muscle and body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty exercising, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, and brain fog, said panelist Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine. Dr. Verduzco-Gutierrez developed a post-COVID recovery clinic to help rehabilitate patients with functional, mobility, and cognitive problems after infection by the novel coronavirus. The clinic can be reached at 210-450-6470.
“In our clinic, three-fourths of patients are getting some sort of therapy,” Dr. Verduzco-Gutierrez said. “Therapy partners have been instrumental in helping these patients improve.”
Patients “are not making it up, and these symptoms are real,” she said.
Eating a low-inflammation diet, getting enough sleep, and taking care of mental health are important steps for patients who are recovering from COVID-19, Dr. Verduzco-Gutierrez said.
Patients recovering from COVID benefit from returning to familiar routines, such as regular activities they do to get ready for bed, as well as using mindfulness apps, explained Ana Allegretti, Ph.D., OTR, ATP, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy. She emphasized the need for a client-centered, holistic approach and a gradual return to pre-COVID occupations.
It’s important for people recovering from COVID-19 to keep their muscles strong, said Bobby Belarmino, PT, DPT, Ph.D., CCS, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. Patients in the ICU — even those who are intubated — can begin receiving physical therapy as soon as it’s deemed safe, he said.
“Our human body is designed to move,” he said.
People recovering from COVID-19 may experience symptoms that can be addressed through therapy with speech-language pathologists, said Cathy Torrington Eaton, Ph.D., CCC–SLP, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. These include symptoms in the areas of swallowing, voice and speech and cognitive-communication. For example, patients requiring intubation may experience damage to laryngeal structures, and patients who experience acute delirium can have temporary or persistent mild, cognitive impairment, she said. Some therapies for patients with dysphagia include diet modification, which can help patients conserve energy when eating, strengthening exercises and purposefully protecting the airway when swallowing, she said.
Dr. Eaton said increasing patient-to-provider communication is a priority, and telehealth has proven effective for many rehabilitation practices in the speech-language arena.
Ruben Restrepo, MD, RRT, FAARC, FCCP, professor in the Division of Respiratory Care, referenced studies highlighting reported lingering symptoms and noted that organs other than the lungs are affected by COVID-19. He emphasized recent guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that pulse oximeters, while useful for estimating blood oxygen levels, should not be used to diagnose or rule out COVID-19.
Watch the recorded panel discussion.
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*Please note that COVID-19 research and patient care are continuously evolving.