If you’re not familiar with dysphagia, this is the medical term for swallowing difficulties. Sufferers can struggle with swallowing food and liquids or be unable to swallow at all.
Dysphagia can develop at any age but is usually linked to other health conditions or injuries such as a stroke, cerebral palsy, or oral cancer.
Symptoms of dysphagia are usually quite obvious. Those who are struggling with the condition will likely cough or choke when trying to eat or drink. They also often have a gurgle in their voice that seems like they need to clear their throat. Chewing can even be difficult, as can keeping food from coming back up.
For those silently suffering from the condition, weight loss and dehydration can be other telltale signs. And, as food is more likely to ‘go down the wrong way,’ sufferers tend to have more chest infections or even bouts of pneumonia.
Diagnosis can be incredibly upsetting – for both the patient and their families. However, there are several treatments and things you can do to make living with dysphagia that little bit easier.
Remember you’re not alone
Having difficulty swallowing can feel very isolating. While all your friends and family enjoy meals together, you may feel a little embarrassed or like the ‘odd one out’. Dysphagia can take a toll on your mental and emotional wellbeing, so the first important thing to remember is that you’re not alone.
People worldwide suffer from the condition, so there are plenty of podcasts, blogs, and support groups available. There are also plenty of professionals to help either overcome your dysphagia or to make things easier day to day.
After diagnosis, many people may think it’s the end of all enjoyment of food and drink. However, this certainly isn’t the case! Many people can still enjoy all their favorites and have discreet treatment to help them live virtually undisrupted.
Changing the consistency of food and drink can often make items easier to swallow and safer for the throat. Simply Thick, for example, is a brand of thickener available in both large containers (for meal prepping at home) as well as discreet sachets that you can take to restaurants or dinner parties – people with dysphagia can continue to enjoy meals with friends and ‘normal’ socializing. Finding the right thickener for you is a case of trial and error, and the technique might not work for everyone. Some thickeners are starchier than others, while some use tasteless ingredients so you can continue to enjoy your diet without even noticing it’s there.
Working with a speech therapist can also help with the day-to-day treating of the condition. For example, a speech therapist will show you different exercises for the esophagus muscle and the mouth to make swallowing easier. Sometimes, dysphagia can be caused by wear and tear in the esophagus, meaning strengthening the muscle can cure the condition.
However, between sessions, you must keep practicing the exercises a few times a day to reap the benefits.
Other exercises and techniques can help to reduce the stress or pressure built up, to make items go down easier. For example, placing the food or drink at the back of the tongue before attempting to swallow.
While adjustments are to be made, living with dysphagia can be just as fulfilling, and food can be just as enjoyable.