Dysphagia (pronounced “dis-fay-ja”) is a medical term for the difficulty or inability to swallow safely and efficiently. The swallowing process is made up of 4 phases — the first phase starts with your lips and the last phase ends when food enters your stomach. Swallowing dysfunction along any point from your mouth to your throat (phases 1 to 3) can result in food and liquids entering the “wrong tube” and into your airway. This is known as oropharyngeal dysphagia (or simply dysphagia).
•Stroke •Progressive neurologic diseases, such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, ALS or Alzheimer’s disease •Cerebral palsy •Brain injury or tumors •Head and neck cancer •Injury or surgery to the head and/or neck
•Difficulty swallowing foods, liquids or saliva •Frequent coughing or choking before or after swallowing •Drooling •A need to swallow repeatedly •A “wet” or gurgly voice, especially after swallowing •Unintended weight loss •Feeling as though you have a lump in your throat •Food that sticks in your cheeks or the roof of your mouth
With the proper diagnosis and healthcare professional-recommended dietary modifications, including nutritional solutions, dysphagia can be managed. However, if left untreated or undiagnosed, dysphagia can compromise your health, cause less enjoyment of eating and drinking, and lead to embarrassment or isolation in social situations that involve eating.
Poor nutrition and dehydration: Because weak throat muscles can make eating and drinking challenging, some people skip meals or avoid drinking beverages. This could result in the inability to consume enough foods and/or liquids to maintain proper nutrition, immunity and hydration. Aspiration pneumonia or chronic lung disease: Muscles in the throat typically block food and saliva from entering the airway. But as muscles weaken, food might go down the “wrong way” — into the lungs instead of the stomach and may lead to pneumonia.If you or someone you care for has experienced any of these symptoms, speak with a healthcare professional who may refer you to a Speech Language Pathologist.Visit the American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) website for more information on dysphagia or to locate a Speech Language Pathologist by clicking on the links below.