Most people have experienced the difficulty swallowing that comes with eating too fast or taking too big of a bite. But when difficulty swallowing is persistent, there is usually an underlying condition to blame. Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is a disorder that can make swallowing difficult and, in some cases, even impossible. Patients struggling with swallowing should be aware of the key symptoms of dysphagia.
1. Reflux and heartburn
People who have dysphagia will often experience reflux or even regurgitation. This difficulty of getting food down can cause heartburn and chest discomfort. Often, patients complain of feeling like food is lodged behind the chest.
2. Hoarse voice
Hoarseness alone doesn’t mean a person has a swallowing disorder. However, a raspy or gurgling voice directly after eating could be an indication of a problem. Patients with dysphagia also commonly experience extra coughing and throat-clearing right after eating.
3. Choking or feelings of stuck food
Patients who have dysphagia will often experience choking or coughing while eating. Additionally, there is often a sensation of food getting stuck, either in the throat or in the chest, behind the breastbone. Patients can also experience difficulty starting the swallowing process and can’t control the food in the mouth.
4. Unexplained weight loss
Patients suffering from a swallowing disorder will often avoid eating and drinking due to the discomfort. This can lead to dehydration, unexplained weight loss, and malnutrition. For this reason, getting treatment for dysphagia is crucial.
What are the treatment options?
Treatment for swallowing disorders focuses on making sure that patients are getting adequate nutrition, have a minimized risk of complications, and know the best ways to get fed. In many cases, doctors will recommend rehabilitative therapy to help patients learn to swallow more safely and with better control. In some cases, certain postural changes will help a person with dysphagia eat better. A healthcare provider may also recommend an oral appliance to normalize pressure and movement inside the mouth.
Who is at risk?
Older adults and those with neurological conditions are more likely to experience dysphagia. Parkinson’s disease can put people at higher risk of the condition. Other nerve system disorders can also make dysphagia more likely.
When to see a doctor
If difficulty swallowing is a regular occurrence or if a patient has vomiting and regurgitation with eating, a doctor’s visit is needed. Patients should find an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who can help to diagnose and treat the condition. At any time, if a patient has swallowing difficulties that interfere with breathing, seek emergency help.