Understanding Dysphagia


Swallowing- we all do it about 900 times a day! Although it seems easy, it is in fact a complex process. In our throat the tube has two branches- one goes down into our stomach, the other leads into our voice box and lungs. Each time we swallow we hold our breath for a second to make sure that the food is passed into the right passage down to our stomachs and not down into our lungs. 26 muscles and other nerves are used each time to ensure the good coordination to swallow safely. Wow! 

Any problem in the swallowing process that prevents or hinders normal eating is called DYSPHAGIA (dys = alteration and phagein = eating).  Dysphagia  covers any difficulty with sucking, chewing, swallowing, eating, drinking or managing your saliva. It  can interfere with a person’s nutrition and hydration. Difficulty with swallowing can also lead to respiratory complications if there is any entry of food into the airways. This can have a serious impact on a child or adult’s health and quality of life. 

Dysphagia can be due to congenital problems during pregnancy and childbirth, or acquired problems, such as accidents or illnesses. Some signs of the presence of dysphagia are:

  • Difficulty with chewing 
  • drooling
  • Coughing or choking when eating 
  • Feeling of food staying in the throat
  • Breathing change
  • Extended meal times
  • Fear of eating (loss of appetite)
  • Weight loss
  • Pneumonia
  • difficulty controlling saliva 

The main aim of the Speech Pathologist working with people with swallowing difficulties, is to ensure their safety, nutrition and hydration.  This can be done by doing exercises to improve the swallow, and  promoting changes in dietary patterns, especially textures as we know some textures are easier to swallow than others. For some people with significant swallowing difficulties, we work with other professionals to investigate alternative feeding routes such as a gastrostomy button where nutrition is received directly into the stomach. 

Please get in touch with our team if you feel your child needs support with their swallowing. 

Post By Leticia Freire, Speech Pathologist.

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