What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia occurs when there is a problem with any part of the swallowing process.
- Weak tongue or cheek muscles may make it hard to move food around in the mouth for chewing.
- Food pieces that are too large for swallowing may enter the throat and block the passage of air.
- Not being able to start the swallowing reflex (a stimulus that allows food and liquids to move safely through the pharynx) because of problems in the central nervous system.
- Weak throat muscles cannot move all of the food toward the stomach.
Important Safety Measure: Learn to do the Heimlich maneuver! Visit Heimlich Institute for details.
What are Problems Caused by Dysphagia?
A person who cannot swallow well may not be able to eat enough of the right foods to stay healthy or maintain an ideal weight.
If foods or liquids enter the windpipe of a person who has dysphagia, and stay there, they may enter the lungs, resulting in aspiration pneumonia.
Swallowing disorders may also include the development of a pocket outside the esophagus caused by weakness in the esophageal wall. This increases the risk of chocking when lying down or sleeping.
Warning Signs of Dysphasia Observed at Mealtimes
- Gurgle-y voice quality
- Wet-sounding breathing
- Spillage of food or liquid from the mouth
- Frequent throat clearing
- Progressively slower rate of food intake
- Regurgitation of food through the mouth or nose after it has been swallowed*
- Food or liquid left in the mouth after a swallow
- Difficulty manipulating food or liquid in the mouth
Other Warning Signs
Take these into consideration when observed together with any of the above symptoms.
- Frequent congestion*
- Frequent temperatures*
- Consistent or significant weight loss*
*Could be indicative of a serious and possibly unrelated medical condition and should be monitored by a physician.
How is Dysphagia Treated?
There are different treatments for various types of dysphagia. Doctors and speech-language pathologists who test for and treat swallowing disorders begin by using a variety of tests that allow them to look at the parts of the swallowing mechanism.
- Fiber Optic Laryngoscopy allows the doctor to look down the throat with a lighted tube
- Video Fluoroscopy videotapes the patient swallowing
- Ultrasound produces pictures of various stages of swallowing
Often the doctor will recommend seeing a speech-language pathologist who is trained in testing and treating swallowing disorders. The speech-language pathologist will test the person's ability to eat and drink and may teach the person new ways to swallow and suggest strategies to avoid swallowing problems.
For more information on dysphagia visit: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/dysph.asp