Speech Therapy and Swallowing Problems
What Can Cause Swallowing Problems?
Swallowing problems are also called dysphagia. They are usually caused by diseases or damage to your brain or nerves, such as:
• Stroke or brain injury
• Parkinson’s disease
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease
• Head and neck cancer
• Traumatic injury
How Do Swallowing Problems Affect Me?
You may face these problems when trying to eat or drink:
• Coughing or choking
• A wet/gurgly voice quality after swallowing
• Feeling like food is stuck in your throat
Serious swallowing problems can cause aspiration. Aspiration is when food or liquid goes into your lungs instead of your stomach. Aspiration can cause infection and pneumonia. Chewing and swallowing may be so difficult that you do not have enough energy to eat what your body needs to maintain nutrients. You may begin to lose weight or become dehydrated.
Who Can Help Me?
Speech-language pathologists (SLP) work with individuals with swallowing problems. They may run special tests to evaluate the function of your swallow, including:
• Bedside Dyphagia Evaluation: During this test the SLP gives you different things to eat and drink to assess your swallow function. This test does not require special equipment and can be conducted anywhere.
• Modified Barium Swallow or Cookie Swallow. This test uses an x-ray to see what happens when you swallow, to find out how serious the problem is and to see if you are aspirating. Your doctor or SLP can give you more information on this test if needed.
How Can I Improve My Swallowing?
Your SLP may recommend ways to make your swallow better, such as:
• Exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing
• Different positions or strategies to swallow more safely
• Recommending foods/liquids that you can swallow more easily
• Vital Stimulation: The use of electrical stimulation paired with swallowing exercises to accelerate strengthening and restore your swallow function
With the help of a speech therapist, prognosis for improved swallow function is good for most patients.
For more information on Saint Anthony’s speech therapy intervention, please call 618/463-5171.