The term dysphagia refers to problems swallowing food or liquids and it can occur for a number of reasons. While esophageal dysphagia occurs due to problems associated with the esophagus, oropharyngeal dysphagia is caused by swallowing problems which originate in the mouth or throat. Here, we take a look at three common treatments for oropharyngeal dysphagia:
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1. Dietary Changes
Adjusting your diet can be a highly effective way to minimize the symptoms of dysphagia. Some people only have issues swallowing certain types of food, for example, so removing these from your diet could enable you to eat and drink comfortably.
Alternatively, a gel-based thickener like SimplyThick Easy Mix for dysphagia patients can be added to fluids and certain foods to make them easier to swallow. When liquid is thickened, it becomes easier to control and its flow rate decreases. This makes it easier for people with dysphagia to consume and reduces the risk of liquids being aspirated.
2. Swallowing Therapy
Working with a speech and language therapist can be a viable way for people with dysphagia to re-learn how to swallow safely. If you’re recovering the ability to swallow after an illness, for example, a therapist can help you to master the skills needed to swallow liquids and foods comfortably and safely.
Swallowing exercises, like the hyoid lift maneuver or the shaker exercise, can help to build muscle strength in the affected areas and, therefore, give you greater control over your ability to swallow. Depending on the specific mechanisms affected, your speech and language therapist will prescribe particular exercises that will help to reduce your symptoms.
3. Feeding Tubes
If you’re experiencing severe oropharyngeal dysphagia symptoms, a feeding tube can be used to provide you with the essential nutrients you need. Typically, nasal or gastric tubes are prescribed, depending on how long you’re likely to need nutritional assistance. If you’re in the process of regaining your ability to swallow, for example, a nasal tube may be prescribed for a period of weeks or months until you’re able to consume liquids naturally.
What Causes Oropharyngeal Dysphagia?
Oropharyngeal dysphagia can occur for various different reasons but identifying the underlying cause can help to reduce your symptoms. In some cases, people may experience swallowing problems due to a neurological condition, such as a multiple sclerosis or motor neuron disease, or a stroke.
Alternatively, oropharyngeal dysphagia may develop due to unexplained muscle weakness or as a result of complications arising from head or neck surgery. In children, dysphagia may also be caused by congenital or development conditions, such as cerebral palsy or learning disabilities.
Dealing with Dysphagia
When you first experience problems swallowing, the symptoms of dysphagia can feel overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. However, getting the right diagnosis and accessing an effective treatment plan can boost your confidence and give you the skills you need to adjust to the condition. By seeking professional advice from your primary care physician and specialists, you can ensure that the symptoms of dysphagia minimized as much as possible and that you’re able to retain your lifestyle with minimal disruptions.