Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing

Difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphagia, includes challenges with chewing, swallowing food or liquid.

Dysphagia is often related to aging. As with other muscles in the aging body, muscles in the mouth and throat can lose strength and bulk. Sometimes dental problems lead to a decreased ability to thoroughly chew food, which in turn leads to swallowing larger (too large) bites of food. More serious dysphagia sometimes results from a stroke, breathing problems, or neurological disorders. Signs of dysphagia may include coughing, throat clearing, or change in voice quality.

It is important to seek advice from a physician, speech language pathologist or other healthcare provider if changes in chewing, swallowing food or liquids are observed.

Risks from dysphagia and swallowing disorders include choking and aspiration (food or liquid goes into the airway and can cause pneumonia when it gets into the lungs).

It is reassuring to know that there are strategies to help avoid swallowing difficulties. Speech therapy, exercises and changing eating habits are good ways to stay safe.

Here are few tips that may help relieve coughs and swallowing concerns. These tips are not intended to replace a consultation with a healthcare provider. A swallowing expert will evaluate an individual’s specific issues based on medical tests such as endoscopy and dynamic swallow studies.

  • Maintain an upright position whenever eating or drinking
  • Following each meal, stay upright for at least 30 to 45 minutes
  • Avoid talking while eating
  • Eat slowly
  • Sip of water instead of clearing throat
  • Take a drink after every bite
  • Take small bites (only 1/2 to a teaspoon per bite)
  • Chew really well
  • Maintain good oral hygiene
  • Take pills one at a time and you can “slicken them up” with applesauce or rolled in vegetable oil

female with difficulty swallowing or dysphagia