Swallowing disorders – formally known as dysphagia – are estimated to affect nearly 510 million people worldwide. Swallowing problems may be the result of many medical conditions, and may affect people of any age.
Some common symptoms could include:
- difficulty moving food from the front to the back of the mouth,
- difficulty chewing,
- food getting stuck in the mouth,
- difficulty swallowing certain foods/drinks,
- coughing or throat clearing while eating/drinking,
- feeling like foods/pills are getting stuck, and/or
- a wet vocal quality (e.g., a gurgling sound) after eating/drinking.
In order to diagnose dysphagia, a patient may have a modified barium swallow study – the patient eats or drinks food or liquid with barium in it and the swallowing process is viewed on an x-ray; or an endoscopy assessment – using a lighted scope inserted through the nose, the swallow can be viewed on a screen.
Amanda Carlson, M.S. CCC-SLP, does modified barium swallow studies at JCH&L with a radiologist.
If dysphagia is diagnosed, treatment may include exercises, generally with a speech therapist; education about strategies to reduce the risk of aspiration (including postural or positioning techniques, behavioral interventions or special equipment or utensils); and diet modifications.
“Swallowing is such an important part of our health and our life,” Carlson said. “If you have any concerns about your swallowing, contact your primary care physician.”