Swallowing is an automatic process. You swallow without even thinking about it. While the majority of swallowing issues are brief and short-lived, some may be indicative of a more serious condition, like nerve dysfunction. 

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing, and there are a wide range of causes. It’s helpful to know how to spot the signs of a potential swallowing disorder so you know when to see a doctor.

Our ENT physicians at Southern ENT Associates specialize in diagnosing and treating swallowing, voice, and airway disorders. If you use your voice professionally, our team can provide specialized care. Let’s discuss some of the telltale signs that you may have an underlying swallowing issue.


Many patients with swallowing disorders experience chronic coughing. Coughing is a generalized reaction to stimuli, typically coming from the pharynx or larynx.

With swallowing disorders, coughing is often the result of premature leaking of food or liquids into the pharynx. Incomplete clearance of food from the food pipe or food coming back up the food pipe can cause spontaneous coughing.

There’s a time association between coughing and swallowing, and when you cough serves as a major clue. Coughing during or right after swallowing is a symptom that is highly suggestive of a swallowing issue. 

A sensation that food is stuck

If you have a swallowing disorder, you might feel as if food is stuck in your throat or have a sensation that there’s a lump in your throat. Some patients even describe the sensation as choking.
You may have this sensation even when you aren’t eating, or you may feel it primarily when you first start the swallowing process. The lump sensation may cause difficulty swallowing, and it may take several tries to get food down. 

Food coming back up the food pipe

Regurgitation refers to food and liquids that reenter your throat or mouth after you swallow, and it’s a common symptom of swallowing disorders. The food may come back up almost immediately after swallowing or a few minutes later.

You may feel material or liquid that tastes sour or bitter come back up into your throat or mouth. While this may indicate a swallowing problem, regurgitation is also common with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). That’s why a comprehensive evaluation is necessary to get to the root of your swallowing issues. 

Food entering the nasal passage

Swallowing problems can also cause material to enter your nasal passage. The upper pharyngeal constrictor muscles and soft palate work together to close the nasopharynx. Nasal regurgitation can be the result of a problem with this closure mechanism or esophagogastric reflux. 

Hoarse voice

Vocal cord nodules are benign lesions on the vocal folds. These soft, noncancerous growths can cause problems swallowing and affect your voice. Vocal cord nodules can cause chronic hoarseness and a sensation that you must clear your throat. 

Surgery may be required if the nodules are large or advanced.

You should never ignore the symptoms of a swallowing disorder. If you have trouble swallowing and your symptoms don’t resolve after a short period, it’s time to see a doctor. 

Our throat care specialists at Southern ENT Associates have a wealth of experience diagnosing and treating patients with a full range of swallowing difficulties. 

Our multidisciplinary team offers comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic services to restore swallowing function. Call your local clinic to schedule a swallowing evaluation with a Southern ENT Associates provider today. 
We have clinics located throughout southern Louisiana, in Thibodaux, Houma, Raceland, Morgan City, New Iberia, and Youngsville

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