Swallowing/Dysphagia Therapy

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
    • Intubation
    • Missing teeth, teeth in poor condition or poor fitting dentures
    • Tracheostomy

*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.