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Swallowing Disorders

Swallowing disorders can pose safety and health risks and must be identified and treated. Sometimes a problem with swallowing can go unrecognized or undiagnosed and result in aspiration. Aspiration can occur when food or liquid enters a patient’s airway. This type of event is commonly referred to as food or liquid “going down the wrong pipe.” When this happens pneumonia may result. Additional problems can include choking which can be life threatening. In order to minimize health and safety risks changes in a person’s diet may be recommended.

Our Treatment Program consist of evaluation, interpretation and recommendations by a speech-language pathologist, collaboration with physicians, neurologist and radiology professionals regarding imaging studies, development of an individualized therapy plan to improve swallowing function, implementation of specific swallowing techniques to improve skills (e.g. Masako, Mendelsohn, etc.) and when necessary the use of oral-motor exercises to improve muscle strength to support swallowing rehabilitation.

What Is A Swallowing Disorder (Dysphagia)?

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that more than 15 million Americans have. They can occur at any age. Swallowing problems may be temporary, or may be an indication of a serious medical problem.

What causes a swallowing disorder?

Some causes of swallowing problems might be due to damage to the nervous system, due to a stroke. For example:

  • Brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Problems affecting the neck and head including:
  • Cancer in the mouth, throat, or esophagus
  • Injury or surgery involving the head and neck
  • Decayed or missing teeth, or poorly fitting dentures

What are the symptoms of a swallowing disorder?

Dysphagia can come and go, be mild or severe, or get worse over time. If you have dysphagia you may:

  • Have problems getting food or liquids to go down on the first try.
  • Gag, choke, or cough when you swallow.
  • Have food or liquids come back up through your throat, mouth, or nose after you swallow.
  • Feel like food or liquids are stuck in some part of your throat or chest.
  • Have pain when you swallow.
  • Have pain or pressure in your chest or have heartburn .
  • Loose weight because you are not getting enough food or liquid.

How is a swallowing disorder treated?

Your treatment will depend on what is causing your dysphagia. Treatment for dysphagia can include:

  • Exercises for your swallowing muscles
  • Changing the foods you eat
  • Dilation
  • Endoscopy
  • Surgery
  • Medicines
  • In rare cases, a person who has severe dysphagia may need a feeding tube because he or she is not able to get enough food and liquids.