What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a difficulty swallowing and can be caused by a number of factors.
A typical “swallow” involves several different muscles and nerves:
- Seeing, smelling and tasting – when we see, smell or taste food or drink we produce saliva, which is designed to make chewing easier
- We chew the food until it becomes a soft bolus – a mass of food that is ready to swallow. The tongue pushes the bolus to the back of the mouth to the pharynx. From this moment onwards, the swallowing movement is a reflex action (automatic)
- The larynx (voice box) closes to prevent food and liquid from going down the windpipe into the lungs. The gulping action pushes the food into the esophagus which has muscular walls and pushes the food down to the stomach.
Dysphagia can be caused by a difficulty anywhere in the swallowing process described above.
Symptoms linked to dysphagia include:
- Choking when eating
- Coughing or gagging when swallowing
- Food or stomach acid backing up into the throat
- Recurrent heartburn
- Pain while swallowing
- Sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest, or behind the breastbone
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
- Difficulty controlling food in the mouth
- Difficulty initiating swallowing (gulping action)
- Recurrent pneumonia
- Inability to control saliva in the mouth.
One of the treatments for dysphagia is swallowing therapy. This will be done with a Speech and Language Therapist. The patient will learn new ways of swallowing properly. Some exercises will be taught and practiced to improve the muscles and how they respond.