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Living with Dysphagia (Difficulty in Swallowing) - Identifying an Understanding the Symptoms


Swallowing is as necessary to your life as breathing.

Under normal circumstances, we depend on swallowing in order to get the nutrients we need to live. Indeed we swallow, on average, 1200 times each day without even thinking about it.

However, for some people this function is seriously impaired by a condition called dysphagia.


What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the medical term for any symptom of swallowing difficulty. It is estimated that more than 5% of the general population has some degree of swallowing impairment.

Dysphagia can occur due to problems with the tongue, the roof of the mouth, muscles of the throat, the food passage or its valves.

Dysphagia varies in severity. Some people may be unable to swallow anything at all; others may have trouble swallowing liquids, foods, or saliva.


The Swallowing process

Normally, swallowing takes place in three stages, involving more than 25 different muscles and six different nerves. It is a quick and continuous process but is often described as occurring in a number of stages.

Stage One: Food is bitten, chewed, mixed with saliva and formed into a mass that can be easily swallowed. The tongue then moves the food to the back of the mouth.

Stage Two: The food mass passes from the back of the mouth into the throat (pharynx) and into the food passage (oesophagus/or gullet). The muscles of the throat squeeze the food mass towards the upper part of the food passage. At the same time, the soft palate closes preventing food or fluid from entering the nose. The voice box (larynx) moves forward and upwards to prevent any food or liquid passing into the airway.

Stage Three: The food mass moves down the food passage, into the stomach. At the bottom of the food passage is a valve, which is normally closed to prevent acid from the stomach moving into the food passage. The valve has to relax briefly to allow food to pass into the stomach.

However for people with dysphagia, several problems may arise which prevent them from being able to perform any of the three stages outlined above.


Causes of Dysphagia

The causes of dysphagia vary across patients. Usually, dysphagia is caused by another health condition. Some causes include:

  • A condition affecting the nervous system – particularly the nerves that control swallowing;
  • Acid reflux;
  • Structural problems in the lips or palate;
  • Certain cancers in the mouth or oesophagus.


Symptoms of Dysphagia include:

The symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • Difficulty chewing;
  • Needing several attempts to swallow;
  • Feeling of food sticking in the throat or in the chest;
  • Frequent coughing and spluttering during or immediately after eating or drinking;
  • Persistent throat clearing;
  • Excessive saliva production or inability to swallow saliva when eating;
  • Food falling out of the mouth when eating or drinking; or
  • Unplanned weight loss.


Complications resulting from Dysphagia

For people with dysphagia eating or drinking is difficult. They may not be able to take in enough food and fluids to nourish and hydrate their body. Additionally, dysphagia may also lead to aspiration, where food and drinks go into a person’s airways rather than their stomach. Dysphagia may also lead to malnutrition, dehydration, pneumonia and even death.


How can I treat Dysphagia?

The most appropriate treatment will vary depending on the particular case of dysphagia and the cause of dysphagia. Treatments include:

  • Changing the texture of foods and drinks;
  • Learning new swallowing techniques;
  • Performing exercises to trigger the swallowing reflex; or
  • Taking medication to prevent acid reflux.

If you are looking for products to help alleviate symptoms of dysphagia and assist with swallowing, Superior Health Care has a wide range on our online store. Many of these products are covered under the NDIS. Some of the products that Superior keeps include:

Food and Liquid Thickeners can be found here:

Flavour Creations Pre-Thickened Drinks can be found here:


Superior Health Care is a registered NDIS provider, and can assist in coordinating the supply of these nutritional products. To find out more, call 1800 87 87 22 or email Alternatively, leave your contact details on the enquiry form on our site. 

If you would like further information about dysphagia, please contact your Medical Practitioner.