Causes, diagnosis, and treatment of some of the most common swallowing disorders
Swallowing is like breathing; we barely think about it until something goes wrong. Swallowing disorders (also known as dysphagia) are more common that one might think.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association explains it like this: “We all have problems swallowing sometimes. We may have trouble chewing a tough piece of meat. We may gag on food or have to swallow hard to get it down. And we have all had a drink “go down the wrong way,” making us cough and choke. A person with a swallowing disorder will have trouble like this all the time.”
There are three phases in the act of swallowing. A person can have problems with just one of these phases or all three. The three phases are the oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal phase. It’s nicely illustrated in this video.
Signs of a problem
If you have a swallowing disorder, you probably are aware of its problems, but you may not know that it’s specific to swallowing. Common signs include:
- Coughing during or right after eating or drinking
- “Wet” sounding voice during or after eating or drinking
- Needing extra time or effort to chew or swallow
- Food or liquid leaking from your mouth
- Having a hard time breathing after meals
- Weight loss
Causes and treatments of swallowing disorders
Swallowing disorders can be caused from simple dry mouth to more complex neurological issues. Acid reflux disease is the most common cause of dysphagia, but there are other esophageal disorders that can also cause swallowing problems. Your family physician or gastroenterologist may do tests to determine the cause of your dysphagia.
Treatments will be determined by what type of dysphagia you have. You will work with your doctor to develop the best solution. Techniques include strengthening and retraining your muscles, surgery, or medications.