Dysphagia refers to difficulties with swallowing food or drink due to a number of different factors. This is more common amongst older adults however can occur in people of all ages.
What does dysphagia involve?
Difficulties with swallowing can be a result of an impairment at any or all stages of the swallowing mechanism. This can include difficulties with:
- deciding how much food to have in a mouthful
- chewing food
- moving food from your mouth into your throat
- controlling the food/fluids in your mouth (sometimes it can spill into your throat before you’re ready)
- coordinating the structures in the throat during a swallow
- coordinating breathing and swallowing during a swallow
- anatomical features such as pockets or bars present in your throat or oesophagus.
What are the symptoms of dysphagia?
- Coughing during or after swallowing
- Choking on food or drink
- Having a wet sounding voice after swallowing
- Difficulties chewing or getting food into your throat
- Food getting ‘stuck’ in your throat
- Breathlessness during swallowing
- Pain with swallowing
What are complications of dysphagia?
Dysphagia can lead to further difficulties including recurrent chest infections and even aspiration pneumonia. This can occur as food/fluids goes “the wrong way” and enters the lungs.
If you are experiencing any difficulties with swallowing, a consultation with a speech pathologist may provide you some guidance.
A speech pathologist is trained to:
- Assess the muscles and structures involved in swallowing. This is essential to make sure that all of the components involved in swallowing are working efficiently and effectively
- Assess the safety of your swallow. This will be done by trialling swallows on a number of different diet consistencies or fluid thicknesses. This helps to determine the safest types of foods and drinks for you to have by making sure that food isn’t going down the “wrong way” or causing discomfort
- Make recommendations about the safest diet and fluids for you to have based on the assessment
A speech pathologist may also:
- Recommend compensatory strategies which help with having safer or more effective mealtimes (e.g., tucking your chin down to your chest or tilting your head to the side).
- Prescribe a rehabilitation program with exercises. These will target deficits impacting on your swallowing safety. For example, muscle strengthening exercises.