Have you ever experienced any difficulty when swallowing food or drink? Occasional difficulty swallowing, which may happen when you drink too fast or talk while you are eating, usually is not a cause for concern. However if the problem persists, worsens, or causes distress or pain, it is important to have a full swallow evaluation.
Swallowing disorders, also called dysphagia, can occur at any age. In adults, they can happen suddenly, for example as a result of trauma or injury (eg, head injury, stroke ) or gradually, for example, in those with Parkinson's disease or head and neck cancer. The causes of swallowing problems vary – several diseases, conditions, or surgical interventions can result in swallowing problems – but sometimes the cause of dysphagia cannot be identified.
Some general signs and symptoms associated with dysphagia may include:
Coughing or spluttering during or after eating/drinking.
Choking episodes or a sensation of food getting ‘stuck’.
Unable to swallow.
Pain when swallowing (odynophagia ).
Taking an increasing amount of time to finish a meal.
Avoiding foods or having to cut up foods into smaller pieces or eat softer mashed foods.
Loss of appetite and/or weight loss.
Eye watering/tearing when eating/drinking.
Change in colour when eating/drinking, or becoming short of breath.
Poor mouth care (oral hygiene ).
On a day to day basis, dysphagia can lead to isolation, impaired quality of life, embarrassment, and lack of enjoyment of food and drink. If left untreated, dysphagia can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, choking, chronic pain, chest infections, aspiration (food or liquid entering the airway ) pneumonia, and even death.
How are swallowing disorders diagnosed?
A speech and language therapist plays a primary role in the evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders. The therapist will take a detailed history, assess the strength and movement of the muscles involved in eating, drinking, and swallowing, and will also observe you eating and drinking. All of this information allows decisions and recommendations to be made for you, keeping in mind your specific needs and concerns.
What treatments are available for people with swallowing disorders?
Treatment depends on the cause, symptoms, and type of swallowing problem.
A speech and language therapist can:
Identify and describe the swallowing difficulty.
Develop specific swallowing treatment (eg, exercises to improve muscle movement/function ).
Provide strategies or equipment to improve swallow function and improve confidence.
Recommend food and liquid consistencies that are easier and safer to swallow.
Educate caregivers/family to support the individual’s needs.
To book an appointment or to find out more about Strive Clinic's speech-language therapy services, phone 091 393180 or email [email protected].