Difficulty swallowing is rarely a indication of a serious disease. Because it can be brought on by a variety of non-threatening causes, the symptom can occur at any age. Reflux disorder (stomach acid moving up the esophagus) often causes liquid or food to be hard to swallow.

SWALLOWING DISORDERS

Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia) is common among all age groups, especially the elderly. The term dysphagia refers to the feeling of difficulty passing food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach. This may be caused by many factors, most of which are not threatening and temporary.  Difficulties in swallowing rarely represent a more serious disease, such as a tumor or a progressive neurological disorder. When the difficulty does not clear up by itself, in a short period of time, you should see an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon.

Any interruption in the swallowing process can cause difficulties. It may be due to simple causes such as poor teeth, ill-fitting dentures, or a common cold. One of the most common causes of dysphagia is gastroesophageal reflux. This occurs when stomach acid moves up the esophagus to the pharynx, causing discomfort. Other causes may include:  stroke; progressive neurologic disorder; the presence of a tracheostomy tube; a paralyzed or unmoving vocal cords; a tumor in the mouth, throat, or esophagus; or surgery in the head, neck, or esophageal areas.

Symptoms of swallowing disorders may include:

  • Drooling
  • A feeling that food or liquid is sticking in the throat
  • Discomfort in the throat or chest (when gastroesophageal reflux is present)
  • A sensation of a foreign body or “lump” in the throat
  • Weight loss and inadequate nutrition due to prolonged or more significant problems with swallowing
  • Coughing or choking caused by bits of food, liquid, or saliva not passing easily during swallowing, and being sucked into the lungs


If necessary, an examination of the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine (duodenum) may be carried out by the otolaryngologist or a gastroenterologist. These specialists may recommend x-rays of the swallowing mechanism, called a barium swallow or upper GI, which is done by a radiologist.

 
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