COVID-19 and Your Respiratory Tract: Important Signs to Know From the ENT Team

The Eye & Ear Foundation

The Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine would like to provide information on COVID-19 and how it affects your respiratory tract. The clinicians are here to help you during the quarantine caused by this pandemic.

Q: What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a form of the coronavirus, which is a respiratory pathogen. It infects the nose, throat, and lungs with high viral concentrations present in these areas.

Q: How is COVID-19 spread?

Sneezing or coughing create droplets of mucous that spread the virus. Research suggests that this aerosol may travel over 20 feet.

Q: What are some of the unique early warning signals for COVID-19?

Early warning signs of infection may include the loss of smell and/or taste in the absence of nasal obstruction or congestion.

Q: What should I do if I have symptoms of COVID-19?

If you experience a loss of your sense of smell, please consider a telemedicine visit with otolaryngology so we can advise you about preventing the spread of disease or contact your PCP. Outpatient evaluations have shifted to the use of telemedicine approaches, and more than 80% of ENT outpatient encounters are now done remotely. People with an urgent need for in person visits with the doctor are being accommodated on a case-by-case basis. Access to the hospital and the clinical offices is controlled. Every person is provided with a mask and screened with a temperature sensor as people with fever require investigation.

Q: What happens if I need ear, nose, or throat surgery right now?

Procedures on the respiratory tract may produce aerosols and are considered high risk, including anesthesia (requires intubation, or putting in a breathing tube) as well as surgery on the ears, nose, and throat. The current recommendations are that all purely elective procedures be postponed until the pandemic has peaked.   Two-thirds of surgical patients are waiting until the peak has passed. However, we are doing emergency surgeries in addition to urgent operations in which delay may result in harm to the individual patient. The clearest example of this is that people with cancer continue their treatment.

To use MyUPMC for virtual visits, follow this link:

Since much of what an otolaryngologist does is to improve quality of life, we find ourselves committed to social distancing and waiting for the pandemic to come under control. At that time, we will be grateful to reengage our many patients.

All my best,

Jonas T. Johnson, MD, FACS
Distinguished Service Professor and Chairman
Department of Otolaryngology
The Eugene N. Myers Endowed Chair
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine