Problems swallowing could be caused by a variety of reasons. The mechanics of swallowing are extremely intricate, comprising a number of steps and numerous muscle groups that work in extremely precise coordination to enable the safe transit of food or liquid bolus into the upper esophagus. Every age has a unique obstacle when it comes to swallowing.
Everyone has experienced aspiration at some point in their lives, which is when they speak too soon after swallowing drink or food and “get something lodged in the incorrect pipe or windpipe.” Although the throat muscles in our bodies have become incredibly sophisticated and coordinated to protect our airways as we swallow, we occasionally neglect to finish our food before speaking. Eating too quickly and taking huge mouthfuls may be the most frequent causes of swallowing issues. Most aspiration incidents can be avoided by taking small, well-chewed chunks and then swallowing them slowly.
Aspiration ranks as one of the leading reasons for hospital admission in the over 65 age group. Our muscles, especially those in our throat and swallowing, weaken as we age. Hence it is very important in this age group to pay extra attention to proper swallowing techniques (small bites, extensive chewing, and then holding one’s breath for an extra 1-2 seconds after feeling the bolus go down).
Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) can also result from reflux laryngitis (GERD), infection, neck trauma, autoimmune disease, benign tumors, and cancer, but are uncommon causes. It is crucial to see an otolaryngologist for a diagnosis if dysphagia lasts for more than a week. If dysphagia is severe and impairs the ability to eat or drink, one should consult a doctor at once (go to the Emergency Room or call 911).
A thorough medical examination and history are the first steps in evaluating swallowing issues. Most likely, the examination will include a flexible laryngeal endoscopy. They can be completed while awake in about 5 minutes. There is no need for anesthetic. It is easily tolerated and can provide a great deal of information because it enables direct examination of the deeper neck, voice box, and esophagus.