Feeding & Swallowing
What are swallowing disorders?
Three Phases: Oral, Pharyngeal, Esophageal
Swallowing disorders, also called dysphagia (dis-FAY-juh), can occur at different stages in the swallowing process:
- Oral phase – sucking, chewing, and moving food or liquid into the throat
- Pharyngeal phase – starting the swallowing reflex, squeezing food down the throat, and closing off the airway to prevent food or liquid from entering the airway (aspiration) or to prevent choking
- Esophageal phase – relaxing and tightening the openings at the top and bottom of the feeding tube in the throat (esophagus) and squeezing food through the esophagus into the stomach
How are swallowing disorders diagnosed?
A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) who specializes in swallowing disorders can evaluate individuals who are experiencing problems eating and drinking. The SLP will take a careful history of medical conditions and symptoms
- look at the strength and movement of the muscles involved in swallowing
- observe feeding to see posture, behavior, and oral movements during eating and drinking
- possibly perform special tests to evaluate swallowing, such as modified barium swallow – individual eats or drinks food or liquid with barium in it, and then the swallowing process is viewed on an X-ray
- endoscopic assessment – a lighted scope is inserted through the nose, and then the swallow can be viewed on a screen
What treatments are available for people with swallowing disorders?
Treatment depends on the cause, symptoms, and type of swallowing problem.
A Speech-Language Pathologist may recommend:
- specific swallowing treatment (e.g., exercises to improve muscle movement)
- positions or strategies to help the individual swallow more effectively
- specific food and liquid textures that are easier and safer to swallow
After the evaluation, family members or caregivers can help by:
- asking questions to understand the problem and the recommended treatment
- assisting in following the treatment plan
- help with exercises
- prepare the recommended textures of food and liquid, making sure that recommendations for eating safely are followed
- keep track of how much food or liquid is consumed
For feeding and swallowing therapy and services, please contact us, we serve Chicago, the North Shore, and Northern and Western Suburbs.