What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is having difficulty swallowing or experiencing pain while swallowing. It is also classified as any abnormality in the movement of food from the mouth to the stomach. Some people may be completely unable to swallow or have trouble swallowing food, liquid or their own saliva.
Causes of Dysphagia:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Cancer of the head and neck
- Cerebral palsy
- Parkinson's disease
- Cleft palate
- Cranial nerve damage
- Infections (HIV/AIDS)
- Respiratory disorders
The above-mentioned are known to cause a weak tongue, weak lips or cheek muscles that are all necessary to move food around the mouth for chewing and swallowing. Another problem is when a person is unable to start the swallowing reflex.
Signs to look out for:
- Inability to recognise food in the mouth
- Inability/problem to place food in the mouth
- Inability to control food in the mouth
- The patient coughs before, during and after feeding
- Chronic pneumonia
- Weight loss for no apparent reason
- Gurgly voice quality
- An increase in secretions in the pharynx or chest after the patient has swallowed
- The patient complains of swallowing problems
- The patient feels full all the time
Dysphagia is serious. Food or liquid can penetrate the trachea and lungs, causing serious infections (Aspiration Pneumonia) or the swallowing problem is limiting his/her intake of food and liquid, which is vital for staying healthy.
Evaluation of swallowing:
The Speech Therapist examines the parts of the swallow mechanism and determines whether there is a problem with swallowing, where in the mechanism the fault is and what causes the problem.
Treatment may involve:
- Positioning the patient in an upright (90 degrees) position with the head supported by pillows
- Swallowing techniques to help the swallowing process
- Adapting the diet (along with a dietitian’s input) to suit the patients needs
- Determining the need for alternative feeding methods (Naso-gastric tube or PEG feeding) when it is not possible to consume food any more
These are just guidelines. Please do not use before consulting a Speech and Language Therapist.