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Swallowing Disorders

Swallowing Disorders (dis-fay-zhuh)

Swallowing is a complex process that involves muscles of the mouth, throat and esophagus (food tube). These muscles prepare and transport oral intake to the digestive system. Difficulties with swallowing are commonly referred to as “dysphagia”, a condition that occurs when a person has difficulty swallowing efficiently and /or safely.


There are many causes for swallowing difficulties. Some are related to common problems such as poor dentition and reflux disease, while others can result from illnesses and disorders such as stroke, cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer of the head or neck, dementia and many others. Individuals with swallowing disorders are at risk of having liquids or food enter their airway that may lead to choking or lung infection. These are serious conditions that can affect health and quality of life.


Symptoms of a swallowing disorder may include a sensation of fullness or sticking in the throat; coughing or choking on saliva or when eating, drinking or swallowing medication; weight loss; frequent pneumonias; changes in breathing function; changes in voice during mealtime (e.g., a gurgly or “wet” sounding voice); holding food in the mouth etc.


If you or a loved one experience changes in swallowing function, it is important to seek medical attention. Your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat physician (ENT), gastroenterologist (GI) and / or dietician. Speech therapy may be recommended to further evaluate swallowing function, as well as to identify strategies that may help to improve safe feeding and swallowing.


A physician’s order is required for initial swallowing assessments.


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