Swallowing Disorders & Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Swallowing Disorders & Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, are a common and often overlooked issue that affects people of all ages. It’s normal to have difficulty swallowing food or drinks occasionally, but when it becomes a frequent occurrence, it can be a sign of a swallowing disorder. Swallowing is a complex process that happens in three stages – oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal. A problem in any of these stages can cause difficulty swallowing and other symptoms.

Symptoms of a swallowing disorder include coughing or choking while eating or drinking, feeling like food is getting stuck in the throat, needing extra effort to chew or swallow, a wet or gurgly voice, and weight loss. These symptoms can also lead to other health complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, and aspiration pneumonia.

Some people with swallowing disorders may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about their condition and may avoid eating in public or with others. But it’s important to remember that swallowing disorders are treatable, and early intervention can prevent serious health complications.

At-risk groups

But who exactly gets swallowing disorders? The truth is, anyone can develop dysphagia at any age. However, certain factors such as age, neurologic conditions, and certain medical treatments (such as radiation therapy) can increase the risk. Additionally, older adults may be more likely to experience swallowing disorders due to age-related changes in the muscles and nerves involved in swallowing.


Symptoms of swallowing disorders can vary depending on the severity and cause of the disorder. Common symptoms include difficulty swallowing, coughing or choking while eating or drinking, a feeling of food getting stuck in the throat, and even weight loss or malnutrition. Additionally, some individuals with dysphagia may also experience chest pain, heartburn, and even pneumonia.


The causes of swallowing disorders are also varied and can range from structural abnormalities in the throat or esophagus to nerve or muscle disorders. Neurologic conditions such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease can also lead to dysphagia. In some cases, the cause of the disorder may be unknown.


Treatment for swallowing disorders will vary depending on the cause and severity of the disorder. In some cases, physical therapy may be used to help strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing. Other treatments may include medications to reduce inflammation or relax the muscles of the throat, or even surgery to correct structural abnormalities.

How we test for swallowing disorders.

Diagnosing a swallowing disorder can be done by an Otolaryngologist who specializes in working with adults with swallowing problems. We will perform a comprehensive evaluation that includes:

  • A thorough review of your medical history, including past illnesses, surgeries, and any previous swallowing issues.
  • An assessment of your mouth muscles to evaluate their strength and movement.
  • A direct observation of you while eating, to assess your posture, feeding techniques and swallowing patterns.
  • Specialized tests may be performed to further evaluate your swallowing, such as a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) or Endoscopic assessment.
  • A Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) test involves consuming food or liquid mixed with a substance called barium, which shows up on an x-ray, allowing the SLP to monitor the movement of food through your throat and esophagus.

An Endoscopic assessment is a test in which a small tube with a camera on the end is inserted through your nose and into your throat, allowing us to watch your swallowing on a screen in real-time.

The information gathered during the evaluation will be used to create a personalized treatment plan that addresses any specific swallowing issues and helps to improve your ability to eat and drink safely.

Come and get treated!

A recent study published in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy found that older adults with dysphagia who participated in a 12-week physical therapy program experienced significant improvement in their ability to swallow and overall quality of life. This highlights the importance of early intervention and treatment for swallowing disorders.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of a swallowing disorder, it’s important to schedule a consultation with an Otolaryngologist. They will be able to perform an examination and any necessary tests to determine the cause and severity of the disorder.

At our Otolaryngology practice, we understand the importance of early intervention and treatment for swallowing disorders. Our team of experts is dedicated to providing the highest level of care for our patients and we are committed to helping you or your loved one improve their quality of life. Don’t let swallowing disorders go untreated, schedule a consultation with us today and take the first step towards better health.