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Difficulty Swallowing? It Might Be a Swallowing Disorder


You pop food into your mouth, chew, and swallow. While that all seems simple enough, swallowing is a three-phase process and each phase needs to function well for the act to come off without a hitch. When there’s a swallowing disorder present, it usually means there’s a malfunction in one of the phases of swallowing, making eating and drinking difficult.

To shed light on swallowing disorders, the team here at Advanced ENT & Allergy, including Dr. Timothy Queen, Nancy Gibson, FNP-BC, and Kristi Pham, MSN, FNP-BC, focuses on the topic in this month’s blog post.

The three phases of swallowing

As we mentioned, swallowing involves three phases, including the following:

1. Oral phase

When you put food or drink in your mouth, muscles go to work to move the food around your mouth and then toward the back.

2. Pharyngeal phase

When food or drink reaches your throat, your airways close off, and the substance passes through your pharynx and into your esophagus.

3. Esophageal phase

Once the food is in your esophagus, muscles contract to push it down into your stomach.

When you have a swallowing disorde, or dysphagia it typically stems from a problem during one of these phases, which can interfere with the entire swallowing process.

Signs of a swallowing disorder

The signs of dysphagia vary depending upon which phase of the swallowing process is affected. Making matters more complicated, swallowing disorders tend to develop on opposite ends of the age spectrum — about 1% of children have a swallowing disorder, and 7-10% of people over the age of 50 have dysphagia.

Young children are often unable to communicate the problem, meaning you need to watch for signs, such as:

Diagnosing a swallowing disorder in adults is far easier since we can communicate better and understand when something isn’t right. Common signs of a swallowing disorder in adults include:

If you experience any of these symptoms or notice your infant struggling with eating and drinking, it’s time to seek our help.

Through our pediatric or adult ENT services, we can evaluate whether there’s an issue during one of the three phases of swallowing. If we find a swallowing disorder, we recommend an appropriate treatment plan, which may include medications, swallowing retraining therapy, or surgery.

Before we get ahead of ourselves in terms of treatment options, the most important step is to come see us for a diagnosis. To get started, contact our office in Newport News, Virginia, to set up an appointment.

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