If you find swallowing difficult or notice that it requires extra effort, you may have a swallowing disorder (dysphagia). You may not notice the symptoms in the beginning. And even if you realize you’re having difficulty swallowing, it may not occur to you that you’re dealing with a treatable medical issue.

You’re in highly capable hands when you choose one of our esteemed otolaryngologists at Southern ENT Associates. Our team is trained to evaluate and identify the underlying causes of conditions that affect your ears, nose, and throat, including swallowing disorders

If you have trouble swallowing when you eat or drink, don’t put off seeking help from a medical professional.

How swallowing works

Swallowing is a complex process that occurs in three stages. During the first stage, called the oral phase, your tongue collects food or liquid, making it ready for swallowing. Your tongue and jaw move solid food around in the mouth as you chew, and your teeth and saliva break down the solid food to make swallowing easier.

When food reaches the back of your mouth it triggers your swallowing response, which pushes the food through the pharynx. This phase is called the pharyngeal phase, and during it, your larynx closes tightly to prevent any food or liquid from entering your airway and lungs.

The third stage of the digestive process begins when food or liquid enters your esophagus or food pipe. The food or liquid travels down your esophagus and enters your stomach. 

This usually occurs in about three seconds, depending on the texture or consistency of the food, but can take slightly longer in some cases.

What happens in dysphagia?

Dysphagia occurs when there’s a problem in one or more phases of the swallowing process. There are a variety of reasons why you might experience trouble swallowing. Weak tongue or cheek muscles can make it hard to move food around in your mouth for chewing.

A stroke or a nervous system disorder can make it difficult to start the swallowing response. Weak throat muscles can cause problems moving food toward your stomach. These are just a few examples of what can happen to cause dysphagia.

A comprehensive evaluation helps determine the underlying cause of your swallowing difficulty.

Does dysphagia cause serious problems?

Dysphagia can cause a range of serious health problems. In older adults, difficulty swallowing can lead to reduced food consumption and undesirable weight loss.

Large food pieces may enter your throat, increasing the risk of choking. Food may enter your lungs and allow harmful bacteria to grow. When this happens, you’re at risk of developing a lung infection called aspiration pneumonia.

Swallowing disorders can also weaken the esophageal wall, causing a pocket to develop. This abnormal pocket can trap food and cause further problems.

Help for difficulty swallowing

Treatment for difficulty swallowing depends on the underlying cause. We use various tests to determine the best treatment approach. One test, the flexible endoscopic evaluation of swallowing, uses a lighted fiber optic tube to view your mouth and throat and examine how your swallowing mechanism responds to various stimuli.

A videofluoroscopic swallow study is a test that helps us see your entire swallowing process. You consume several foods or liquids along with the mineral barium, which provides an enhanced view of your digestive tract.

Rest assured that our team uses best practices to get to the bottom of your swallowing difficulty. Once we reach an accurate diagnosis, we discuss treatment options to restore trouble-free swallowing. 

If you’re having difficulty swallowing, don't delay. We’re standing by to help. To schedule a visit with one of our top-quality providers, call the office nearest you.

Our clinics are located in Thibodaux, Houma, Raceland, Morgan City, New Iberia, and Youngsville, Louisiana.

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