Do you have difficulty swallowing? There could be a number of causes. If the problem is chronic, it is possible that you are suffering from dysphagia. Dysphagia is a medical condition that affects the mouth, which makes swallowing much more difficult. It is an unfortunately common problem that affects roughly 4% of the population.
There are a number of possible causes of dysphagia, as well as health implications if the disease is not treated properly. Fortunately, there are a lot of good treatments and most trained doctors can detect the condition at its earliest stages, before it progresses.
Here is an overview.
Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia
There are two different types of dysphagia: esophageal and oropharyngeal. The type of disease you are suffering from depends on whether it originates from your oropharynx or esophagus.
Oropharyngealdysphagia tends to be caused by neuromuscular disorders. It usually stems from processing problems between the cranial nerves and the muscles at the rear of the throat. However, not all oropharyngeal dysphagia disorders are caused by neuromuscular problems. They can also be the result of narrowing of the back of the throat (a condition known as stricture development) or throat tumors.
Esophageal dysphagia, on the other hand, is more commonly caused by structural problems in the throat. One of the most common causes is acid reflect diseases, which can cause scarring of the throat.
The symptoms are usually pretty obvious. The patient will have difficulty swallowing food. If they cannot swallow food within one second of chewing, then the problem is likely caused by oropharyngeal dysphagia.
In some cases, patients may technically be able to swallow. However, the muscles along the walls of the throat may be defective, which lead to other complications. The food may be pumped up through the nose in rare cases. This is why companies like Simply Thick have developed food thickeners that minimize these problems.
Patients with esophageal dysphagia can usually swallow better, but will still face uncomfortable complications. The food will often get stuck in the throat or chest. In some cases, the food can be stuck for prolonged periods of time, which requires urgent endoscopic surgery to have it removed.
How Can Patients Manage Dysphagia?
Coming up with a treatment plan for dysphagia is important. The exact nature of the treatment program is going to depend on the type, the severity of the disease, the range of foods that are not able to be processed and whether or not surgery was necessary.
One of the most important parts of any treatment plan for patients with dysphagia is determining which types of foods they can consume. Any patient with dysphagia will need to be careful consuming large blocks of food. They will need to get into the habit of cutting their food more finely to avoid having it lodged in their throats.
They may also need to consider getting a food thickener. This is common with patients that have difficulty consuming liquids. They will have trouble with other viscous foods as well.
Patients suffering from esophageal dysphagia are also going to need to be careful consuming food that is highly spicy. This can worsen problems with the esophagus, since spicy foods tend to cause acid reflex and other gastrointestinal problems.
Anyone with esophageal dysphagia should also consider looking into various exercises to aid with dilation. These exercises can include:
- Using an acid lowering agent
- Placing a balloon down the throat and slowly inflating it
- Using a steroid treatment that is designed to reduce restriction in the throat muscles
- Using small metal stents to expand the lumen (in cases where throat cancer is the cause of the dysphagia disorder)
Many treatments have been tried and tested over the years. The good news is that they can be very effective, but you need to make sure that you get the right diagnosis first. Since there are different types and causes of dysphagia, you don’t want to pursue the wrong treatment. This only risks causing unnecessary inflammation and tearing of the regions that are not even affected.