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A Medical Look at Dysphagia

By Valeri Thelen, Staff Writer

(Page 3 of 3)

Another thing to monitor is food with mixed consistency, meaning both liquid and solid elements. An example is cereal with milk. The milk can get to the throat sooner and cause swallowing issues. Mushy cereal may be a good fix.

Salad is another big no-no for those with swallowing concerns. Lettuce is very difficult to make manageable. The dressing is the other concern, as with the milk and cereal scenario. It can get to the throat sooner and be swallowed before the person is ready.

Fruit is many times a mixed consistency food, with skin and juices blending, as may be ice cream and gelatins that start out as solids and melt to a thin liquid in the mouth.

While lifestyle changes are likely, many people with swallowing issues find ways to manage the concern and live full, social lives. A caregiver can help with the embarrassment factor, especially in public settings, by planning ahead, whether itís calling the restaurant or talking to the party host.


Even if treatment is going well, caregivers must not let themselves or a loved one feel that the dysphagia has been completely overcome and get comfortable. Itís still a very dangerous, life-threatening condition if not monitored properly and regularly.

Here are some tips for living with chronic dysphagia:

  • Watch for respiratory difficulties such as coughing, rapid breathing, wheezing, chest pain or changes in voice.
  • Continue with the therapist-approved swallowing exercises that involve breathing, coughing and chewing.
  • Continue to work on overall fitness, muscle strength, balance and posture.
  • Keep the mind and body active with reading, games and word puzzles, etc.
  • At bedtime, keep a loved oneís head elevated to 30 degrees to minimize aspiration and reflux.

Part of a caregiverís challenge is to help a loved one find support. A counselor, therapist and even support group can help those involved find encouragement, support, and even information on the latest treatments.

Prevention of dysphagia is not usually possible. While some of the symptoms cannot completely be erased, especially if neurological, early detection and treatment can help minimize the lasting effects. Eating and chewing slowly is an important technique for those already diagnosed, and a lesson in patience for loved ones, albeit a lesson well worth the time.

Treatment of swallowing problems is ongoing, and a caregiver and loved one must understand that the initial plan is likely not the final one. The swallowing specialist will cater the treatment to a personís progress and also changes in health if necessary. A caregiver must always keep a health care provider in the loop of a loved oneís advance directives, and changes in condition, in case the treatment is no longer necessary or pertinent.


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