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Swallowing Disorder: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

January 30, 2018 by Mainak Santra0

A person suffering from swallowing disorders, also termed as Dysphagia, faces difficulties in eating, drinking, taking medicines and even breathing. It is caused when there is a paralysis of the throat muscles. People suffering from swallowing disorders are often unaware of having it. Commonly, Dysphagia refers to the sensation of having difficulties in passing solids or liquids from the mouth to the stomach. It needs early attention and proper treatment procedures should be undergone without any delay.

There are many good swallowing disorder therapy centres that house professional Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs). They have declared certain symptoms of Dysphagia, which are:

  • Poor tongue control
  • Liquid or semi-solids coming out of nose after trying to swallow
  • Loss of pharyngeal reflex or gag reflex and food getting caught in lungs
  • Difficulty starting to swallow and choking when food gets stuck
  • Having a weak voice
  • Coughing or gagging while eating or drinking
  • Having a sensation that food is stuck in the throat or chest
  • Persistent drooling or salivating
  • Difficulty initiating a swallow as the bolus cannot be properly pushed by the tongue into the throat. This happens with neurological problems.

According to the Speech Language Pathologists at good centres for swallowing disorder therapy, the causes of Dysphagia can be classified into two broad categories, namely –

  • Oropharyngeal – caused from problems in the mouth or pharynx
  • Esophageal – caused from problems in the esophagus or the food pipe

Apart from these, there are other specific causes of Dysphagia as discussed by well-known SLPs at clinics dealing with swallowing disorder therapy, like physical obstruction of the pharynx or esophagus, diseases of the brain or neurological disorders, diseases of the smooth muscle of the esophagus, diseases of skeletal muscle of the pharynx, and miscellaneous diseases.

Under the physical obstruction of the pharynx or esophagus category, there are several causes of Dysphagia, like benign and malignant tumors of the pharynx and esophagus and the tissues surrounding these organs, narrowing of the esophagus (strictures), Schatzki’s rings or very short narrowings at the lower end of the esophagus, infiltrating diseases of the esophagus, congenital and other abnormalities of the esophagus. Most clinics of swallowing disorder therapy opined that several neurological and cerebral diseases like stroke, tumors of the brainstem, degenerative diseases of the brain and the motor nerves of the brain may cause Dysphagia. It can even be caused after one has undergone a radiotherapy treatment, as it causes scar tissue which narrows the passageway in the throat and the esophagus.

Some muscular disorders in the esophagus like Achalasia, Scleroderma, ineffective peristalsis and spastic motility disorders, may also cause swallowing disorders. There are certain diseases of the skeletal muscles of the pharynx that many professional SLPs at good swallowing disorder therapy centres have declared as the causes of Dysphagia. They are Polymyositis, Myasthenia gravis, muscular dystrophies and metabolic myopathies. Infections like Tuberculosis can also cause swallowing problems due to the inflammation of esophagus.

Other miscellaneous diseases that are responsible for Dysphagia include reduced saliva, Alzheimer’s disease, and others. Apart from these there are also some congenital (present from birth) and developmental conditions that can cause Dysphagia and these include cerebral palsy and gap or split in the upper lip or in the roof of the mouth (cleft lip and palate).

If you have the above mentioned symptoms, then consult a recognized Speech Language Pathologist at a good clinic for swallowing disorder therapy without further delay. He/ she will carry out a detailed assessment of your general health and your previous medical histories (if any), and start your treatment accordingly. He/she may even refer you to other specialists for further diagnostic tests and treatments depending on the cause of Dysphagia. Some common treatments done at most centres of swallowing disorder therapy are as follows:

  • Dietary changes – certain dietary changes may effectively cure swallowing disorders.
  • Changing texture or thickness of the food – start by chewing and swallowing smaller particles of food, by chopping and smashing it as it will easily go down your esophagus.
  • Therapy – swallowing disorder therapy is the most common treatment for Dysphagia and is done by trained Speech Language Pathologists.
  • Exercise – certain exercises related to the tongue, lips, mouth and throat cures many swallowing disorders as it stimulates the nerves. These exercises include changing the sitting position and posture, reducing distractions at mealtime, eating properly and slowly so as to avoid choking and inhaling food into the lungs, and the like.

To sum up, if you delay visiting a good centre dealing with swallowing disorder therapy, then your Dysphagia might start showing several other complications that might be dangerous for your health. Hence, visit your SLP today if you are having any of the above symptoms of Dysphagia.


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