Swallowing Disorders

Swallowing difficulty, or dysphagia, presents itself in a variety of ways and occurs for a number of reasons. Swallowing disorders are usually related to neurologic disorders or dysfunctions. They may occur after a stroke, serious illness or surgery. Swallowing disorders include any patient complaint of coughing, choking or having difficulty managing food or saliva.  

If you're experiencing swallowing problems, you may have dysphagia. Your doctor can consult a speech and language pathologist for a modified barium swallow study to help identify the problem and help medical professionals develop a treatment plan.

How are swallowing problems treated?

Since swallowing is both voluntary and involuntary (we swallow saliva all day and night without thinking about it), an individual therapy plan to improve coordination, timeliness and strength of the swallow is initiated. Electrical Stimulation (E Stim) may be used when appropriate for a particular patient. Since some patients have difficulty with a particular texture of food or liquid, modifying the diet is often part of the treatment plan.  A dietician is available for consultation to help with meal planning. 

What is aspiration? Is it serious?

With aspiration food or liquid enters the windpipe instead of the food tube (pharynx).  Patients may report that “food is going down the wrong pipe.” This can be serious if too much food or liquid enters the lungs and causes pneumonia.

Do children have swallowing disorders?

Yes, children can have swallowing disorders, too. Many of the problems children experience are developmental in nature, but swallowing problems can result from serious illness, surgery, neurological conditions or a variety of GI problems. Children with neurological and developmental disorders may have difficulty managing different food textures, timing the swallow and insuring that food goes down the right pipe.  Gastroenterologists often treat children who have swallowing problems related to the esophagus while speech and language pathologists manage swallowing disorders related to the mouth and food tube (pharynx)