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Why Am I Having Difficulty Swallowing as an Adult?

Why Am I Having Difficulty Swallowing as an Adult?

There’s a tightness in your throat that’s making getting food down more difficult, Or perhaps food and drinks aren't going down the right pipes, causing you to choke and cough. Both of these scenarios fall under dysphagia, which describes difficulty swallowing in all of its many forms.

If you thought that dysphagia only occurs in infants, think again. There are many different reasons adults can encounter difficulty swallowing, which is why Dr. Timothy Queen and the team here at Advanced ENT & Allergy are focusing on the subject here. As part of our comprehensive adult ear, nose, and throat services, we’ve seen our fair share of difficulty swallowing in adults, and here’s what we’ve found.

The three phases of swallowing

While dysphagia may seem pretty straightforward, swallowing is, in reality, a fairly complex process that involves three phases, including:

1. Oral phase

The difficulty you have swallowing occurs in your mouth, and you encounter problems moving the food to the back of your throat for swallowing.

2. Pharyngeal phase

This describes the stage that involves your throat — closing off your airway and moving the food or drink down into your esophagus.

3. Esophageal phase

Your esophagus is the tunnel that runs from the back of your throat to your stomach, and it involves muscles that contract to push food down.

The many different causes of dysphagia

When you have difficulty swallowing, the problem can arise in any of the three phases outlined above. From neurological issues due to health conditions from stroke to autoimmune diseases like scleroderma that cause scar tissue in your esophagus, there’s no shortage of conditions that can affect your ability to swallow.

As an ENT practice, however, we focus on those issues that fall under our area of expertise, which are primarily conditions that affect your throat and esophagus, including:

Acid reflux

Thanks to a weak sphincter connecting to your stomach, acids enter your esophagus, and food comes back up your throat.


Inflammation in your tonsils blocks food and makes swallowing difficult.

Thyroid nodules

Up to 50% of people develop thyroid nodules, but in most cases, the growths are asymptomatic. If the growth is large enough, it can interfere with breathing and swallowing.

Esophageal diverticulum

Pouches develop in your esophagus that siphon off food, giving you a feeling that something is caught in your throat.

Other issues can make swallowing difficult, such as cancer in your throat or neck, injuries to your throat, and even missing teeth.

The best way to pinpoint the culprit behind your dysphagia is to see us for a full evaluation. After reviewing your symptoms, we may turn to endoscopy to look at the structures in your throat and esophagus.

Your first step in getting to the bottom of your difficulty swallowing is to contact our office in Newport News, Virginia, to schedule a consultation.

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