Difficulty swallowing, formally known as Dysphagia, is a medical disorder where it takes more time and effort to swallow food or liquid. Persistent dysphagia, especially when accompanied with regurgitation, vomiting, or rapid weight loss, may be a sign of a serious medical condition. Medical evaluation and treatment is highly advised.
Dysphagia affects as many as 15 million people in the U.S. It is estimated that 1 in 17 people will experience some form of dysphagia during their lifetime. This condition can develop at any age, but is most prevalent in older adults. It is a common condition in stroke survivors and people who have had radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. Dysphagia is also very prevalent in patients with ALS and Parkinson’s disease.
There are two primary classifications of dysphagia, esophageal dysphagia and oropharyngeal dysphagia. Esophageal dysphagia applies to the sensation of food sticking or getting hung up in the base of your throat or in your chest after you’ve started to swallow. Oropharyngeal dysphagia refers to conditions where throat muscles are weakened, resulting in difficulty moving food from the mouth to the esophagus when one begins to swallow.
Treatment for dysphagia is directly related to the cause of the condition.
Causes for esophageal dysphagia can include but are not limited to; spasms, strictures, achalasia (esophageal stricture), tumors, foreign bodies, GERD, and radiation therapy. Esophageal dysphagia therapy can include esophageal dilation for those with achalasia, surgery to clear the esophageal path if needed, or medication.
Oropharyngeal dysphagia is most often caused by neurological disorders or damage, cancer, or pharyngoesophageal diverticulum. Patients diagnosed with GERD can be prescribed acid reducing medications, while those with esophageal spasms may be prescribed muscle relaxants. Patients with oropharyngeal dysphagia are often referred to a speech or swallowing therapist by their doctor. Therapy for oropharyngeal dysphagia can include exercises to help patients learn how to coordinate all the muscles involved in swallowing, re-engage the nerves involved in triggering the swallowing reflex, or employ new swallowing techniques.
At New Horizons Therapy, we specialize in helping both children and adults with dysphagia. Our patient centered approach incorporates a multidisciplinary team that may include your primary care provider, ENT, or other specialized medical professionals into our assessment and treatment plan. This ensures our patients are provided customized care that not only maximizes their current abilities and resources, but also prevents future complications from occurring. If your child has been diagnosed with or presents symptoms of dysphagia, we can help. Schedule a free 15 minute evaluation today for you, your loved one, or child.