When consuming food and drinks, many people take the ability to swallow for granted. For a lot of people, it is just a natural reaction that doesn’t require any thought.
Yet 1 in 25 people will experience difficulty swallowing at some point in their life, and up to 15 million U.S adults are affected by dysphagia. Here is a short guide to dysphagia, what causes it, and how you can cope with it.
What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a medical term for swallowing difficulties, and it can affect people of all ages. The level of severity can differ from person to person. Some people experience trouble swallowing certain items, while others cannot swallow at all.
A few people might experience some level of dysphagia a couple of times in their lifetime. Some may face this problem a little more frequently, while others suffer from it constantly and need to learn to live with it.
Signs of Dysphagia
Besides difficulty with swallowing, someone with dysphagia may experience difficulty when chewing, and they may cough or choke when trying to consume food or drinks. They may also feel as though food is stuck in the chest or throat and eventually bring the food back up.
Types of Dysphagia
There are three main types of dysphagia, and diagnosing the type of dysphagia an individual has can help them treat the condition better.
- Oral dysphagia describes a problem in the mouth. This could be caused by tongue weakness as a result of a stroke, issues with moving food from the mouth, or difficulty chewing food.
- Pharyngeal dysphagia is when the problem is in the throat. This is usually caused by a neurological issue, such as Parkinson’s disease, that affects the nerves.
- Esophageal dysphagia is when the issue lies in the esophagus because of irritation or a blockage.
How to Treat Oral and Pharyngeal Dysphagia
Swallowing therapy is given by a speech and language therapist (SLT). SLTs work closely with patients to teach them specific techniques that are tailored to their specific issues. The techniques are designed to improve specific muscles and help patients develop new ways to swallow.
Change in Diet
If an individual is at risk of adverse health issues as a result of dysphagia, they will be advised to make changes to their diet. This can include recommendations of softer food and thicker fluids to reduce the chance of dehydration and malnutrition.
There are thickening products designed to make fluids more palatable for people with dysphagia. Simply Thick is a flavorless gel that can be added to hot and cold fluids. They will stay the same consistency over time and will not form lumps.
Feeding tubes are recommended for people at serious risk of dehydration, malnutrition, or pneumonia. They help patients get the nutrition they need.
How to Treat Esophageal Dysphagia
When there is a blockage or an irritation, surgery is often required to widen the esophagus by stretching it or inserting a tube or a balloon. Botox is another common treatment that can help reduce constriction.