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Getting A Grip On Swallowing Problems

By Roya Sayadi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Joel Herskowitz, M.D.

(Page 4 of 4)

Watch Out For Dehydration And Medication

Dehydration can cause swallowing problems by reducing the supply of saliva. Food sticks to the throat so leftover material can get sucked into the lungs after the swallow. Pills can attach to the esophagus and burn its lining.

Diuretic medications can cause or contribute to dehydration. Anticholinergic drugs (such as diphenhydramine, amitriptyline, or ipratropium) cut down on saliva formation to interfere with swallowing at any phase of the process.

What's Your Next Step

Gather together your observations, questions, and concerns and get them to your loved one’s primary medical provider.

If things worsen at any time – if she has increased difficulty swallowing, threatened dehydration, labored breathing, or progressive weakness, for example–seek medical attention at once.

In Conclusion

Give yourself a pat on the back for learning about an important subject that receives little attention and which can be life-threatening. Ignoring a swallowing problem can be disastrous. Now that you have a plan, don’t hesitate to use it.

Roya Sayadi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist with the Natick (Massachusetts) Visiting Nurse Association. She has had extensive experience in diagnosing and treating patients with swallowing disorders, working with families, the elderly, and the chronically ill in a variety of settings. Joel Herskowitz, M.D., Dr. Sayadi’s husband, is a pediatric neurologist on the faculty of the Boston University School of Medicine. They are authors of SWALLOW SAFELY: How Swallowing Problems Threaten the Elderly and Others. A Caregiver’s Guide to Recognition, Treatment, and Prevention. For further information, contact

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