“Eating is an activity of daily living that we as humans seem to take for granted since it has become something of second nature. But isn’t that mostly the case, until it gets taken away from you?”

Have you ever had the consistent feeling that something was stuck in your throat after eating? You may have dysphagia.

Dysphagia occurs when there is an impairment of the normal swallow, resulting in an abnormal swallow. The normal swallow occurs as a result of a quick, sequence of movements controlled neurologically. These movements involve the muscles of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx and stomach. An abnormal swallow includes difficulty swallowing or complete inability to swallow foods, liquids or medications. A person may feel that foods and/or liquids “stick” in the throat.

Dysphagia may occur from neurological disorders (i.e., strokes, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia, Multiple Sclerosis, etc.), gastrointestinal disorders or loss of organs as a result of surgery or traumatic injury. It may also occur when there is a problem with any part of the swallowing process – for instance, weak tongue or cheek muscles may make it hard to move food around in the mouth for chewing. Food pieces that are too large for swallowing may enter the throat and block the passage of air.

Different impacts of swallowing disorders on a person’s quality of life may include:

• Aspiration—occurs when foods, liquids or secretions pass below the level of the true vocal folds.
• Aspiration pneumonia—life threatening condition resulting in an infection in the lungs from aspiration.
• Dehydration
• Malnutrition
• Weight loss

A speech-language pathologist will conduct a thorough assessment of the structures of a person’s swallowing mechanism to determine if there is indeed a swallowing impairment, complete a plan of care and begin treatment. Treatment is determined by the type of dysphagia a person may be experiencing, and varies from one person to another.

Murry, Thomas., Carrau, Ricardo L. Clinical Management of Swallow Disorders. Plural Publishing, Inc. 2012.