Girl in Boston, 15, suffered vocal cord paralysis after catching COVID and had to live with a tube in her WINDPIPE – in first case of its kind
- The patient was given a tracheostomy – a tube in the windpipe to allow breathing
- She was able to have it removed just in time for her high school prom
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From a loss of taste and smell to brain fog that lasts months, Covid has caused its fair share of bizarre symptoms.
But doctors in Boston say they may have discovered one of the strangest yet – after the virus paralyzed a girl’s vocal cords and rendered her mute.
The 15-year-old, who was otherwise healthy, came to the emergency department of Massachusetts General Hospital with difficulty breathing and speaking two weeks after she caught Covid.
Doctors examined her throat with an endoscope – a medical device with a light and camera attached to it – and discovered both her vocal cords were paralyzed.
The patient, 15, who was otherwise healthy, came to the emergency department of Massachusetts General Hospital with difficulty breathing and speaking two weeks after she caught Covid (stock pic)
Doctors performed a tracheostomy – a surgery to create an opening in the windpipe – to relieve her breathing issues. It involves doctors inserting a tube into the windpipe to allow a person to breathe and speak more easily
She underwent a host of tests, including blood work, analysis of fluid from her spine, speech-language and psychiatry tests, but doctors could find no cause other than her recent Covid infection.
Dr Christopher Hartnick, director of the Pediatric Otolaryngology and Pediatric Airway, Voice, and Swallowing Center at Mass Eye and Ear, said: ‘To have a young, healthy, vibrant high schooler all of a sudden lose one of their important cranial nerves such that they can’t breathe is highly unusual and took some parsing.’
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Speech therapy did not help ease her symptoms, so doctors performed a tracheostomy – a surgery to create an opening in the windpipe – to relieve her breathing issues.
It involves doctors inserting a tube into the windpipe to allow a person to breathe and speak more easily.
The girl was dependent on the tube for over a year, but doctors were able to remove it just in time for her high school graduation and prom.
Dr Hartnick said: ‘She was having her senior prom a year and a quarter to the date of when she lost her function, and she told me she was not going to go to the prom with her tracheostomy in place.
‘We decided to intervene so that she could graduate high school and go to her prom tracheostomy-free, which she did.’
Dysfunction of the nerves after a viral infection is a known cause of vocal cord paralysis, the doctors said, and there have been several reports of paralysis in one or both vocal cords of adults as a complication of Covid, but this is the first report of the issue in a child.
These kinds of outcomes are not normally expected in young, healthy individuals.
It has been suggested that vocal cord paralysis after Covid may be due to inflammation linked to an immune response or the way the virus affects the nerves in the throat.
Dray Danielle Larrow, a resident in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Mass Eye and Ear, said: ‘Given how common this virus is among children, this newly recognized potential complication should be considered in any child presenting with a breathing, talking or swallowing complaint after a recent Covid diagnosis.
‘This is especially important as such complaints could be easily attributed to more common diagnoses such as asthma.’
Dr Hartnick added: ‘The fact that kids can actually have long-term neurotrophic effects from Covid is something that it’s important for the broader pediatric community to be aware of in order to be able to treat our kids well.’
The case was published in the journal Pediatrics.
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