Where communities matter
1300 492 492
Health & Wellbeing

Dysphagia - Signs and Symptoms

elderly women gets treated for swallowing problems

Let's talk about Dysphagia and its signs and symptoms

What is it?

Dysphagia is the term known in the medical world as someone having difficulty swallowing. A person will experience difficulties in sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, controlling saliva, taking medication, or protecting the lungs from food and drink that may go down the wrong pipe.

Eating and Drinking are an important part of each day for health and social reasons. Not only do we need to eat and drink to live, but we should be able to enjoy events in the community that involve eating and drinking without being concerned about our health.

How can it affect me?

Humans, on average, swallow between 500-700 times a day. People who have trouble swallowing are at risk of poor nutrition and dehydration or developing lung problems due to the build up of fluids. Babies and children may not take in enough nutrients to support growth and brain development.

It can affect babies who aren't able to latch properly during breast - or bottle feeding, children who have developmental difficulties such as cerebral palsy where the lung capacity and breathing strength affect a swallow, and it can even affect the older generation who have had a stroke or diagnosed with dementia or Parkinson's disease.

What are the risks of having dysphagia?

Difficulty swallowing may result in potentially life-threatening medical problems such as pneumonia, choking, poor nutrition and dehydration.

If severe, swallowing difficulties can lead to hospitalization and even death if not treated.

What are the signs some has difficulty swallowing?

  • Your baby has difficulty sucking during breast or bottle feeding
  • The feeling that food or drink gets stuck in the throat
  • Long times to eat meals (takes more than 30 minutes to finish a meal).
  • Coughing, choking, or frequent throat clearing during and after eating and drinking.
  • Frequent chest infections with no known cause.
  • Change of voice during meals.

Who can help with swallowing difficulties?

Within the hospital system the Doctors and Speech Pathologists work closely together to support a person with swallowing difficulties. However, multiple health professionals can support a person who presents with dysphagia including dietitians, physiotherapists, pharmacists, and nurses.

What should I do?

If you feel that you, or someone in your family, is showing signs of difficulty swallowing, the best place to seek support is your doctor who will be able to manage your concerns in either the hospital setting or in the community. A speech pathologist can help support and strengthen a person's swallow, but unless they are based in a hospital setting, they will require a referral from a GP in case there are other medical problems present.

Join the conversation