A Medical Look at Dysphagia /
By Valeri Thelen, Staff Writer
Itís important to seek immediate help if
obstructions are interfering with breathing or
swallowing. If occasional swallowing difficulty
becomes ongoing, or is accompanied by weight loss,
regurgitation or vomiting, a caregiver should seek
medical treatment for a loved one.
If left untreated, dysphagia can lead to serious
issues such as malnutrition, dehydration and
respiratory problems. When preparing for the initial
doctorís appointment to discuss swallowing issues, a
caregiver can help make the most of the short time
with the professional by preparing information.
First, make sure that there are no pre-appointment
conditions such as diet restrictions, then prepare a
list of a loved oneís symptoms (including their
severity and frequency), as well as lists of current
medications and questions for the practitioner.
Some things to discuss with a health care
provider are cause, treatments, longevity of issue,
side effects from treatment, alternatives, existing
health conditions, resources, etc.
Swallowing disorders affect each person
differently and a specialist will look at those
particulars to come up with a specific treatment
plan. Itís not a ďone size fits allĒ way of
addressing the issue, and a loved oneís plan will be
tailored to their needs.
The goals of treatment, however, are standard:
- To be at a place where swallowing is
done as safely as possible, and minimizes the
risk of choking or aspiration, and
- Ensure the correct amount of nutrition and
hydration is able to be provided for a loved
An important thing for a caregiver to realize is
that treatment for dysphagia involves a loved oneís
family and other support systems. Swallowing can be
improved by addressing the overall condition,
including strength, stamina, motivation and
First, a loved one and caregiver will need to
understand what is wrong with the swallowing. A
basic understanding will help them connect with the
therapies the specialist recommends.
For oropharyngeal dysphagia, a speech or
swallowing therapist may be recommended by the
doctor. Common therapy includes exercise and
learning swallowing techniques.
With a diagnosis of esophageal dysphagia,
treatment may be more aggressive, including
esophageal dilation, surgery or medications.
If a medical professional recommends medications,
professionals suggest a loved one help a person sit
upright, stay calm and take one pill at a time
during administration. Use plenty of liquid and
applesauce to help with the swallowing of pills.
They should be taken early in the day, and a loved
one remains upright for 30 minutes after swallowing.
Treatment for a swallowing disorder most likely
will include a diet modification. A caregiver should
make sure their loved one is avoiding foods that may
have caused problems in the past, such as tough
meats, crusty breads, raw vegetables, whole nuts,
some fruits, and sticky foods like peanut butter or