Trouble Swallowing May Signal a Larger Problem

The term dysphagia refers to the feeling of difficulty swallowing — that is, passing food or liquid from your mouth to stomach. This disorder is common in all age groups, but it’s especially common in older adults. 

Problems swallowing can have many causes. It’s something you shouldn’t ignore. If you notice difficulty swallowing, see a professional to get to the bottom of it.

Our team at Southern ENT understands the discomfort you may experience when swallowing a tablet or piece of food. We work closely with you to identify an underlying cause. Once identified, we develop an individualized treatment plan to improve your ability to swallow.

Swallowing is complex

Did you know that 50 pairs of muscles and nerves work together to move food from the mouth to the stomach? 

When food and liquids enter your mouth, a complex process takes place to make them ready for digestion. Everything entering your mouth, except pills or capsules, gets broken down right away through chewing and enzyme activity of saliva. 

The swallowing response occurs when the food reaches the back of your mouth. Swallowing passes food and liquid through your esophagus and into your stomach. Any problem with the muscles or nerves involved in this process can cause problems swallowing.

Symptoms of difficulty swallowing

Have you ever felt an uncomfortable sensation when swallowing that you passed off as nothing? Any discomfort swallowing may point to an underlying issue. Symptoms to look out for are:

If you notice any of these warning signs, see a specialist right away.

What causes trouble swallowing?

Many issues can cause trouble swallowing. When you visit Southern ENT, our team conducts a comprehensive evaluation to identify an underlying cause. Some common causes of difficulty swallowing are:

Gastroesophageal reflux

One of the most common causes of difficulty swallowing is gastroesophageal reflux disease. People with this condition have a lower esophageal sphincter that doesn’t function as well as it should. 

The LES opens and closes to keep food contents from backing up into the esophagus. When it doesn’t work well, the acidic contents of the stomach reverse into the esophagus, causing damage. People with GERD may experience an uncomfortable sensation when swallowing.

Neurological issues

Because nerves play a key role in swallowing, damaged or dysfunctional nerves can cause issues swallowing. People who have had a stroke or have progressive neurological conditions may experience trouble swallowing.

Throat tumor

A tumor growing in your throat can make it difficult to pass food from your mouth to your stomach. You may feel like something is stuck in your throat and may even experience pain when swallowing.

Thyroid disorders

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that functions as part of your endocrine system. Because of its location at the base of your neck, problems with your thyroid that cause it to swell may trigger trouble swallowing.

These are just a few issues that can make it difficult to swallow. Complex muscle and nerve disorders, as well as certain medications can cause difficulty swallowing as well.

Treating difficulty swallowing

Once we determine an underlying cause of your trouble swallowing, treatment may consist of:

Our head and neck surgeons can perform various surgical treatments to improve your ability to swallow, depending on the underlying cause. For example, if excessively tight muscles cause problems swallowing, our surgeons can strategically release the muscles so that you can swallow better.

Untreated swallowing issues can cause complications, such as dehydration, weight loss, respiratory problems, and malnutrition. If you or a loved one is having difficulty swallowing, call our nearest Southern ENT office to schedule an appointment, or use our online form to request a consultation. 

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