Dysphagia affects up to one in five older adults. But it’s not an illness that gets talked about very often. It affects your ability to swallow and can be a side-effect of neurological illnesses like strokes. This guide will provide you with more information about dysphagia and how it is treated.
What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a medical term used to describe the difficulty in swallowing. There are different types of dysphagia and each type affects your ability to swallow food and drink safely. You have a problem if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- A sensation that food or liquid is sticking in your throat when it shouldn’t be, especially if you have had to cough or make an effort to clear your throat.
- Feeling as if there is still food in your mouth after you have just swallowed. Having problems speaking clearly and coughing when you swallow (this happens because saliva has gone down the wrong way).
- Finding it hard to eat or drink certain foods like bread, raw vegetables, nuts, beans, hard sweets, and sticky or chewy foods.
What causes dysphagia?
Dysphagia is caused by damaged nerves in the brain stem or damage to your muscles that help you swallow. It can be a symptom of another illness, medication side-effect, or injury such as a stroke. Sometimes it can be related to a condition affecting the brain like Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
Who is at risk?
Dysphagia can be a problem for anyone over the age of 50, but especially those who have had a stroke or an injury to their brain stem. It can make eating difficult and could increase your risk of choking on food or drink, which can lead to serious consequences such as pneumonia or a chest infection. If you have any of the symptoms described above, it is important to get an assessment from your doctor and find out what treatment options are available.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The signs and symptoms of dysphagia can vary depending on the type that you have. They can also differ between patients, even those with the same condition, which is why it is important to see your doctor for an assessment.
How is Dysphagia diagnosed?
In most cases, a doctor will be able to diagnose dysphagia by asking you about your symptoms and taking some medical history. To find out more about what is behind the problem, they may carry out one of the following examinations:
- Video Fluoroscopic Swallowing Exam (VFSE)
- Other Assessments
How is dysphagia treated?
If you have mild dysphagia, your doctor may not need to treat the problem. They may recommend that changing the foods that you eat, such as adding more liquid or softening them with a blender, can help. They might also recommend a product like Simply Holahan to thicken up food. Here are some of the possible treatments for dysphagia :
- Physical therapy
- Effortful swallow
- Mendelsohn Maneuver
- Supraglottic swallow
- Shaker exercise
- Electrical Current
- Dietary and lifestyle changes
When to see a doctor?
If you are experiencing any dysphagia symptoms, such as problems with swallowing food or drink, contact your doctor right away. If you know that you have dysphagia, it is important to see a specialist for an assessment and treatment options.