If you have trouble swallowing food and liquids, you may have dysphagia, which comes with a range of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include an inability to swallow, gagging or coughing when eating, pain during swallowing, and a hoarse voice. Dysphagia can either be oropharyngeal or esophageal. The type that you have will depend on why and how the condition is occurring. With esophageal dysphagia, there are several underlying causes that lead to a sensation of food being lodged in the throat or chest when swallowing. On the other hand, oropharyngeal dysphagia is caused by a weakening of the throat muscles, which makes it difficult to move food from the mouth to the throat and the esophagus when swallowing. It can be caused by neurological damage or disorders, or cancer. The treatment you may be offered will depend on the type of dysphagia you have. Some of the most common treatment options include:
Dietary management is important for people with both types of dysphagia. In severe cases, feeding through a tube might be necessary to ensure that the patient is getting the right nutrients and hydration. However, in most cases, a modified diet is sufficient. Depending on the severity of the condition, the patient may need to eat a pureed or mechanical soft food diet. Products like SimplyThick thickener gel can also be used to make liquids easier to swallow.
Many people with dysphagia can learn how to swallow correctly and safely with the right exercises. A speech therapist or speech language pathologist can teach you exercises and techniques that you should perform on a regular basis to strengthen your throat muscles and make it easier for you to swallow food and liquids more successfully.
In some cases, medication will be prescribed to treat the underlying cause of dysphagia. Esophageal dysphagia in particular can be caused by a wide range of underlying conditions that you may be prescribed medication for, including GERD and other conditions that may cause a stiffening or tightening of the esophagus muscles. You may be prescribed medications such as muscle relaxants, antacids, corticosteroids, or proton-pump inhibitors to treat the cause of the esophageal dysphagia and relieve the symptoms.
In some cases, surgery might be necessary to relieve the symptoms of dysphagia. In most cases, this is a step that will only be recommended if dietary changes, therapy, and/or medication have not caused any significant improvements to your dysphagia. In some cases, surgery may be recommended if you are suffering with dysphagia that has been caused by an obstruction in your throat or esophagus, with a procedure to remove it. A common surgical procedure for dysphagia that has been caused by a narrowing of the esophagus is to place a stent to open it up and make it easier for you to swallow.
Dysphagia can be caused by several underlying conditions, so whether or not it can be cured will depend on the type of dysphagia and the reason for it.