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How do I know I have a Swallowing Problem and what should I do?


Pam Ahlman is a speech pathologist at Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.

Question: I think I have a problem swallowing. What should I do?

Answer: If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing you first need to contact your health care provider. Dysphagia (swallowing disorder) can be classified into two groups: 1. Oropharyngeal (in the mouth or throat) 2. Esophageal (in the esophagus).

Your health care provider may refer you to a certified speech pathologist who is trained in diagnosing and treating oropharyngeal dysphagia or a gastroenterologist, a specialist in esophageal problems.

Some of the symptoms of oropharyngeal dysphagia may include one or more of the following:

  • difficulty controlling food in the mouth
  • inability to control your own saliva
  • difficulty initiating a swallow
  • coughing or throat clearing frequently during eating or drinking
  • frequent choking on food or liquids
  • frequent pneumonia
  • unexplained weight loss
  • gurgly or wet vocal quality especially after swallowing
  • nasal regurgitation (food or liquid entering or coming out of the nose when you swallow)
  • a sensation of food being stuck in your throat
  • having to swallow multiple times on a single mouthful of food or when drinking a single sip of liquid
  • fatigue or shortness of breath while eating
  • increased congestion in the chest after eating or drinking

When dysphagia goes undiagnosed or untreated, people are at high risk of respiratory illness or pneumonia, dehydration, malnutrition and renal failure. Special tests may be used to further assess for dysphagia. These may include a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS), a Flexible Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES), an upper GI, esophageal endoscopy, or a barium swallow.

To treat oropharyngeal dysphagia you may need to change your diet consistencies, learn special exercises and/or learn special head positions or swallow techniques.

Esophageal dysphagia may involve dilatation of your esophagus, medications and/or possible surgery.


Page Last Modified: 04/12/2012
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