Dysphagia. A difficult diagnosis to swallow!



This Wednesday 17th March is Swallowing Awareness Day hosted by Speech Pathology Australia to bring attention to swallowing disorders and to connect people with speech pathologists, the professionals who can help.

Just like breathing, swallowing is a reflex and it is essential to everyday life. Humans swallow 500-700 times every day! We swallow less whilst we’re asleep (around three times an hour), once every minute while we’re awake and of course we swallow the most when we’re eating.

However, around one million Australians experience difficulty swallowing including some of the children that we support at Xavier.

The theme of this year’s Swallowing Awareness Day is “Dysphagia. A difficult diagnosis to swallow!”

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing and it includes any problems with swallowing, sucking, eating, drinking, chewing, controlling saliva or protecting the lungs from food or liquid entering the wind pipe or “going down the wrong way”.

Children (and adults) who have dysphagia are at risk of choking, poor nutrition, dehydration and developing chest infections and pneumonia.

What are the symptoms of Dysphagia?

Some of the signs and symptoms associated with dysphagia include:

  • Experiencing pain while swallowing
  • Being unable to swallow
  • Feeling like food is getting stuck in your throat or chest
  • Drooling saliva, food or liquid out of your mouth
  • Being hoarse
  • Regurgitating food
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Stomach acid coming up and into your throat
  • Losing weight without an explanation
  • Gagging or coughing when swallowing or soon after
  • Having trouble swallowing food or certain foods
  • Recurrent chest infections

Who can have a swallowing problem?

A swallowing problem can occur at any stage in life. Babies who are born prematurely, have heart defects, neurological disorders or damage such as Cerebral Palsy can have swallowing problems. Children with differences in the structure of their head, neck and face (one example is a cleft palate) can also have trouble with swallowing.

How can a Speech Pathologist help?

Speech pathologists work with thousands of Australians, both adults and children, who have difficulty swallowing. Speech pathologists have an in-depth knowledge of the muscles of the mouth, tongue and neck that are used for both speech and swallowing.

They will work as part of a multi-disciplinary team which means that they work with other health professionals such as doctors, nurses, dietitians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists and others to help people with swallowing problems.

If your child has difficulty swallowing, our team of speech pathologists can provide the following support:

  • Complete a detailed assessment
  • Provide a diagnosis of dysphagia which may also assist with a medical diagnosis
  • Refer on for further investigations if required
  • Provide support to reduce or prevent the risk of aspiration – where food enters the airway and can cause problems such as chest infections or pneumonia
  • Help children to improve swallowing through oral motor / sensory exercises, swallowing techniques and positioning, and modifying their diet

Further information

If you’d like to find out more about how our team of speech pathologists can support your child, get in touch using our simple online form or call us on 1800 XAVIER.