Swallowing is complex, and a number of issues can interfere with this process. Dysphagia is defined as difficulty or discomfort with eating and drinking. Dysphagia becomes increasingly common with age as a number of neurological disorders and conditions can cause a person to suffer from it.
Common causes for dysphagia generally falls into one of the following categories, oropharyngeal or oesophageal. Oropharyngeal causes are often due to neurological conditions including motor neurone disease and stroke. Oesophageal causes include reflux and strictures. It is important to book a Speech Pathology appointment to have your swallowing assessed, if you are experiencing dysphagia. Each case is treated differently depending on the cause, symptoms and severity.
There is not one treatment that fits all cases and dysphagia can be life threatening, therefore it is important to have a comprehensive assessment.
General guidelines to avoid dysphagia include:
- Remaining seated upright 30 minutes after a meal. This is done to ensure any residual food in the mouth after a meal is swallowed correctly as there is a greater chance of aspirating food or fluid (going down the wrong pipe) when lying down.
- Keep an eye out for fever or recurrent chest infections. A spike in temperature can be a sign of infection and recurrent chest infections can be caused by aspiration of food and fluids due to dysphagia. If this is occurring, a Speech Pathologist can determine the possible cause and provide a treatment plan to rectify the situation.
- Maintain good oral hygiene. In many cases, the bacteria causing chest infections may not necessarily be from food that was just ingested but from bacteria that was already in the mouth being swallowed with saliva. For this reason, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene to reduce the amount of bacteria present in the mouth that may end up in a person’s lungs.
- Ensure the person is alert and not fatigued during mealtime. Fatigue increases the risk of dysphagia as the person’s muscles are not working at 100% capacity meaning there is a greater chance of an uncoordinated swallow causing food or fluid to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs. For this reason it is best to schedule meal times when the person is most awake and alert.
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This article was written by our Speech Pathologist Ashleigh Fattah who is a Speech Pathology Australia member. If you have have difficulties with eating and drinking or require speech pathology care, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with simple and effective therapy targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.