Woman-holding-throat-Speech-Language.jpgJune is National Dysphagia Awareness Month. Having trouble swallowing (dysphagia) is a symptom that accompanies a number of disorders. If you have a swallowing disorder, you may have difficulty or pain when swallowing whereas some people cannot swallow at all. Others may have trouble swallowing liquids, foods, or saliva, which can make it hard to eat. Often, it can be difficult to take in enough calories and fluids to nourish your body. Anyone can have a swallowing disorder, but it is more likely in the elderly.

Conditions that can cause swallowing difficulties include stroke (the most common cause of dysphagia), traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, Parkinson disease, ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), multiple sclerosis, Huntington disease, and myasthenia gravis, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), cancer in the mouth, throat or esophagus, injury or surgery to the head or neck and missing, decayed teeth or improperly fitting dentures.

Changing a person's diet by adding thickeners to liquids may help some individuals, as does learning different ways to eat and chew that reduce the risk for aspiration. Occasionally drug therapy to treat an underlying neurological disorder can also help dysphagia. More severely disabled individuals may require surgery or the insertion of feeding tubes.

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can closely evaluate someone experiencing symptoms of a swallowing disorder. Possible evaluations may include:
  • 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 
“The speech-language pathology students and their supervisors treat dysphagia across the lifespan here at the Speech-Language Institute,” states Robert Serianni, the program’s Clinical Director.  “We have clinicians that specialize in the assessment and management of dysphagia in adults, as well as others who work with infants and children who have difficulty with eating and drinking. We frequently partner with Occupational Therapy, Nutrition and Lactation Consultants for an interprofessional approach to the care of these clients and their families.”
If you or a loved one has difficulty swallowing, contact the Speech-Language Institute today at 215.780.3150.