What is a swallowing disorder?
Also called dysphagia (dis-FAY-juh), swallowing disorders can occur at different phases of the swallow.
- Oral phase- difficulty chewing and moving food or liquid from the mouth to the throat.
- Pharyngeal phase- difficulty starting the swallow, moving food or liquid down the throat, or difficulty closing the airway so food and liquid don't get into the lungs.
- Esophageal phase- difficulty relaxing and tightening the openings at the throat and stomach, difficulty squeezing food through the esophagus.
What can cause swallowing problems?
- Damage to the nervous system, such as:
- ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)
- Alzheimer's disease, dementia
- Cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy
- Parkinson's disease, MS
- Stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury
- Problems effecting the head and neck, such as:
- Cancer in the mouth, throat, or esophagus
- General weakness
- Injury or surgery involving the head and neck
- Missing teeth, teeth in poor condition or poor fitting dentures
*Many other diseases, conditions, or surgical interventions can result in swallowing problems.
How do swallowing problems affect people?
- Embarrassment or isolation in social situations involving eating
- Less enjoyment of eating and drinking
- Poor nutrition or dehydration
- Risk of aspiration (food/liquid entering the airway) which can lead to pneumonia and chronic lung disease
What are signs and symptoms of dysphagia?
- Coughing during or after eating or drinking
- Extra effort needed to chew or swallow
- Food or liquid leaking from the mouth or getting stuck in the mouth
- Recurring pneumonia or chest congestion
- Weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat/drink enough
- Wet or gurgly voice during or after eating or drinking
What does a speech-language pathologist do to evaluate swallowing problems?
- Evaluate swallowing problems affecting the mouth and throat
- Looks at the strength and movement of the muscles involved in swallowing in the mouth and throat
- Reviews your medical history and current symptoms
What kind of treatment is available?
Treatment varies depending on the cause, symptoms and type of swallowing problem. A speech-language pathologist may recommend:
- Exercises, positions, or strategies to help improve swallowing
- Specific food and liquid textures that are easier and safer to swallow
- Vital Stim™ therapy
What can family members or caregivers do to help?
- Ask questions to understand the problem and the recommended treatment
- Assist in following the treatment plan by helping with exercises, prepare foods and liquids
- Make sure that recommendations are being followed while eating/drinking.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 989-583-6386.