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Difficulty in swallowing also known as dysphagia is common among all age groups, especially the elderly. Dysphagia refers to the feeling of difficulty passing food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach. This could be caused by many factors; most are temporary and not threatening.

What are the symptoms of swallowing disorders?

Symptoms may include:

  • Drooling
  • A feeling that food or liquid is sticking in the throat
  • Discomfort in the throat or chest
  • A sensation of a foreign body or “lump” in the throat
  • Weight loss and inadequate nutrition due to prolonged or more significant problems with swallowing
  • Coughing or choking caused by bits of food, liquid saliva not passing easily during swallowing, and being sucking into the lungs
  • Voice change

How are swallowing disorders diagnosed?

When swallowing disorders are persistent and the cause is not apparent, your physician will discuss your history of your problem and examine your mouth and throat; this made be done with the aid of mirrors. A small tube called a laryngoscope can also be placed through the nose, and the patient is given food to eat while the scope is in place in the throat. These procedures provide visualization of the back of the tongue, throat, and larynx. 

What causes swallowing disorders?

Any interruption in the swallowing process can cause difficulties; eating slowly and chewing thoroughly can help reduce problems with swallowing. Difficulties may be due to a range of other causes including something as simple as poor teeth, dentures that do not fit properly or a common cold. 

How are swallowing disorders treated?

Once the cause is determined, swallowing disorders may be treated with medication, swallowing therapy, or surgery. Your physician will discuss which option is best for you.

One of the most common causes of a swallowing disorder is gastro-esophagus​ reflux occurring when the stomach acid moves up the stomach to the pharynx, causing discomfort. Other causes may include hypertension, diabetes, thyroid disease, stroke, progressive neurologic disorder, the presence of a tracheotomy tube, a paralyzed or unmoving vocal cord, a tumor in the mouth, throat or esophagus or surgery in the head, neck and esophageal areas.