Dysphagia Q & A
Dysphagia is a medical term for trouble swallowing. Patients who have trouble starting a swallow, feel as though they have food stuck in the neck, or who aspirate the items they're trying to eat all have a form of dysphagia.
Dysphagia is typically 1 of 2 types. Oropharyngeal dysphagia occurs when the nerves and muscles of the mouth, throat, and esophageal sphincter aren't functioning properly. Esophageal dysphagia occurs when structures of the esophagus aren't functioning properly.
What are common symptoms of dysphagia?
People with dysphagia may experience coughing or choking while trying to swallow. They may also have the feeling of food stuck in the throat. Sometimes patients breathe in the food or drinks they are consuming, which causes pneumonia. Hoarseness and other voice changes can also be a sign of dysphagia.
What causes dysphagia?
Oropharyngeal dysphagia is typically due to neuromuscular problems that affect the muscles in the mouth, throat, and top of the esophagus. Diseases affecting the brain or nerves, including stroke, can cause this problem. Esophageal dysphagia is the more common type and is due to narrowing of the esophagus or inflammation of the esophagus. Acid reflux and GERD are common causes of this particular problem.
How is dysphagia diagnosed?
Dysphagia is diagnosed with a swallow study. This test includes imaging of the patient's mouth and neck while the patient is eating or drinking to determine if swallowing problems are happening. Doctors also perform a nasal endoscopy to take pictures of the back of the throat while swallowing. Dr. Astrachan and Dr. Hecht can also perform an endoscopic examination of the tissue of the throat and esophagus if they suspect that structural problems are causing the swallowing issues.
How can dysphagia be treated?
Like many conditions Ear Nose and Throat Specialists of Connecticut treats, dysphagia is treated based on the cause. If the esophagus is narrowing, stretching it can alleviate the problem. For patients with neurological disorders — like those who have had a stroke — lifestyle modification and occupational therapy help. Some patients may not be able to treat their dysphagia, and will need instead to change the way they eat or drink to prevent problems. For more information about potential treatments, contact Ear Nose and Throat Specialists of Connecticut for a thorough evaluation and treatment discussion.