When you swallow, you are moving chewed food or liquids through the esophagus to the stomach. Dysphagia, the term for difficulty swallowing, is a medical condition characterized by the sensation of food or liquid getting stuck in the throat or chest. Numerous factors can cause swallowing difficulty, most of them benign.
The Swallowing Process
Few of us give much thought to the act of swallowing, but it’s a complex process that involves around
50 pairs of muscles and nerves.
Four stages make up the swallowing process:
- Stage 1: Oral preparation stage. Food is chewed.
- Stage 2: Oral stage. The tongue pushes back the food or liquid.
- Stage 3: Pharyngeal stage. Food or liquid passes into the esophagus.
- Stage 4: Esophageal stage. Food or liquid enters the stomach.
Symptoms & Causes of Swallowing Disorders
Swallowing disorders involve chronic issues with chewing and swallowing. The symptoms are pain while swallowing, chest pain, and the sensation that meals or liquid are getting caught in the throat or chest. Additionally, you could experience drooling, heartburn, nausea, wheezing, coughing, regurgitation, sore throat, and a bitter flavor in the mouth.
Swallowing disorders consist of diffuse spasms, an improperly comfortable sphincter, vulnerable esophageal muscle tissue, a narrow esophagus or esophageal ring, foreign bodies, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a hardening of the tissues, and tumors.
In addition, the muscle tissue and nerves responsible for swallowing can weaken due to neurological problems, pharyngeal diverticula, or cancer. Children may have trouble swallowing if they have nervous system problems or a cleft palate.
Treatment for Swallowing Disorders
Treatment for swallowing disorders depends on the underlying cause and where the problem originates. Medication, surgery, and swallowing therapy are the most common types of treatments administered. Dysphagia medications include antacids, muscle relaxants, and other drugs to limit the amount of stomach acid produced.
A surgical procedure to stretch or dilate the esophagus when too narrow often helps resolve the issue. Swallowing therapy involving chewing and swallowing techniques can help stimulate the responsible muscles and nerves. The most severe cases of dysphagia may require a liquid diet or feeding tube.