Dysphagia: Four Helpful Treatments

Swallowing is an action you do so regularly, you don’t even notice. But, if you have trouble with swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia, it can cause medical and psychological issues.

Dysphagia can make you drool, choke or gag, or feel like food is stuck in your throat or chest. You may also have heartburn. Weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration can also occur as side effects.

Dysphagia may occur anywhere along the swallowing process. If you have trouble at the start of the swallowing process, it’s known as oral (high) dysphagia, and is usually associated with the tongue or the action of chewing. 

Swallowing problems may also originate in the throat, usually as a result of a neurological problem. Dysphagia may also happen due to blockage or irritation in the esophagus, a condition known as low dysphagia. 

Dysphagia that occurs once or twice is probably not something to worry about, but if it happens regularly, it could indicate an underlying problem that needs medical attention. Dysphagia can affect anyone at any age, but is most common in infants or the elderly.

At GastroDoxs, our board-certified gastroenterologist, Bharat Pothuri, MD, evaluates cases of dysphagia to help with diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Here are four ways to treat the condition so you can swallow with more ease.

1. Muscle exercises to strengthen weak facial muscles

Muscle exercises can help improve strength and coordination in slack facial muscles critical to swallowing. We offer this valuable physical therapy, should you have high dysphagia. 

Certain other eating techniques can help, too. For example, you can try to place food in your mouth in a specific position or place your body and head in a position that optimizes swallowing. 

If you’ve had a stroke or a condition like Parkinson’s disease, you may also be taught new swallowing techniques.

2. Esophageal dilation or surgery

If the root cause of your dysphagia is in your esophagus, Dr. Pothuri may perform a procedure known as esophageal dilation. He uses an endoscope affixed with a special balloon to gently stretch and expand the width of your esophagus. A flexible tube is sometimes used for the procedure, too.

Surgery is another helpful treatment for people suffering from dysphagia due to a tumor or other blockage. Dr. Pothuri clears your esophageal path so swallowing becomes effortless again.

3. Dietary interventions

Some people with dysphagia benefit from a few dietary tweaks. We can help you learn how to prepare food in a very particular way so it’s easier for you to swallow. For example, if you find it difficult to take in thin liquids, we can teach you how to add thickeners to drinks. We can also help you determine if swallowing is more challenging when you’re faced with food or drink of a certain temperature.

Avoiding certain foods altogether, like whole fruit, seeds and nuts, or non-pureed items, can also make swallowing far easier. We customize a diet plan according to your specific needs.

4. Medications

Difficulty swallowing sometimes results from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In these cases, oral medications that help reduce stomach acid can help with dysphagia. Usually, you’ll need to take these GERD medications for the long term and pair them with lifestyle changes to see a real difference.

Other medications can help if you have dysphagia caused by other issues. Corticosteroids and smooth muscle relaxants are options, depending on your diagnosis. 

If you or a loved one is suffering from dysphagia, contact our friendly staff at GastroDoxs for evaluation and treatment. Call the office in Houston, Texas, or click “request appointment” to schedule your visit. 

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