What is a Swallowing Disorder?For those with a swallowing disorder, also called dysphagia, it takes more effort and time to move liquids or food from their mouth to their stomach. Swallowing disorders can occur at any age, but they are more common in older adults. 

Symptoms of swallowing disorders
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Coughing or gagging when swallowing
  • A wet or gurgled sounding voice during or after eating or drinking
  • Unable to swallow
  • Having the sensation of food getting stuck in your throat or chest or behind your breastbone
  • Drooling
  • Hoarseness
  • Bringing food back up
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Having food or stomach acid back up into your throat
  • Unexpectedly losing weight
  • Having to cut food into smaller pieces or avoiding certain foods because of trouble swallowing 

Causes of swallowing disorders
Swallowing disorders can result from damage to the nervous system because of certain medical conditions such as: a stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, ALS, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. They can also occur in relation to problems affecting the head and neck, including: cancer in the mouth, throat or esophagus; injury or surgery to the head or neck; missing, decayed teeth; or improperly fitting dentures.

Diagnosis and treatment of swallowing disorders
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can closely evaluate someone experiencing symptoms of a swallowing disorder. Possible evaluations include:

  • Taking a detailed case history of medical conditions
  • Looking at the strength of the muscles used for swallowing
  • Observing eating behaviors such as posture and oral movements
  • A barium swallowing study, which involves the patient eating or drinking items containing barium. The process is viewed on an X-ray to see any coordination issues with the mouth and throat muscles.
  • An endoscopic assessment, in which a lighted scope is inserted into the patient’s nose so swallowing can be observed on a screen
Treatment plans vary depending upon the type and cause of swallowing disorder. Some techniques SLPs use are: specific swallowing exercises, positions or strategies to help someone swallow better – such as using thickening liquids to make things easier to swallow – or recommending certain foods/liquids.
If you or a loved one has difficulty swallowing, contact the Speech-Language Institute today.


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