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Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia and How to Treat It

Updated: Nov 25, 2021



The community prevalence of dysphagia is 2% to 20% globally. In America, this swallowing problem affects up to 15 million adults. In fact, research shows that 1 in 25 people will experience some form of the condition (nerve or muscle difficulties) at least once in their lifetime. Dysphagia is usually accompanied by pain in swallowing, known as odynophagia. The risk is even higher for people with neurological disorders, such as dementia or stroke.

The good news is that compensatory techniques and positioning strategies can be used to redirect the food’s movement in the mouth, along with swallowing maneuvers, to improve the strength and motion of the jaws and cheeks, according to experts at Coastal Home Rehab. Here’s what you should know about dysphagia to seek timely treatment.

Symptoms of Dysphagia

It can occur at any age but is more common in older people. In case the condition goes untreated, it can increase chances of pneumonia, malnutrition and dehydration, according to an article on Medical News Today. Therefore, look for the following symptoms in senior citizens:

  • Excessive drooling

  • Choking often while eating

  • Losing weight without any reason

  • Regurgitation or bringing up of swallowed food

  • Constant coughing during or after eating

  • Pain while swallowing food

  • Hoarseness of voice

  • Sensation of food getting stuck behind the breastbone or chest

  • Avoiding certain foods since they cannot be swallowed easily.

Food might also fail to pass spontaneously down the esophagus, without the help of liquids. Also, bigger pieces might get lodged in the esophagus, requiring immediate medical intervention.

How to Treat Difficulty in Swallowing?

Swallowing therapy is an effective way to treat the condition. The treatment method uses exercises that strengthen and train patients to swallow properly, how to place food in the mouth or techniques to reposition the body to make the process successful, according to an article on MedicineNet. The therapy is usually performed by language and speech therapists, who help improve muscle movement and response.

However, you might also have to resort to combination of liquid and solid diet for a well-balanced nutritional intake. In case of severe dysphagia, dilation or Botox therapy can be used. Surgical methods are also available to keep the esophagus sphincter open for easy passage of food particles.

Encourage seniors to sit upright, at a 90-degree angle, and minimize dining table distraction. Further, drinking sufficient fluids can ensure saliva management, while pureed foods can help ease the lives of patients with dysphagia.