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Dysphagia Treatments

Swallowing is a very complex process. Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is very common among aging adults. It can lead to malnutrition, aspiration pneumonia and even death. In the United States, dysphagia affects 300,000 to 600,000 people every year. Age-related changes in swallowing habits, as well as age-related diseases, are factors that can lead to the development of dysphagia in the elderly. There are a few natural treatment methods for dysphasia, ranging from postural adjustments, to dietary changes and oral-motor exercises. If you are suffering from dysphagia, it’s very important to know your treatment options so you can react on time. Then you can work with a speech pathologist to decide which ones are right for you.

Oropharyngeal dysphagia

It can sometimes be difficult to treat if it's caused by a condition that affects the nervous system. This is because these problems can't usually be corrected using medication or surgery. There are 3 main ways oropharyngeal dysphagia is managed to make eating and drinking as safe as possible:

  • swallowing therapy
  • dietary changes
  • feeding tubes

For oropharyngeal dysphagia, your doctor may refer you to a speech or swallowing therapist, and therapy may include:

  • Learning exercises. Certain exercises may help coordinate your swallowing muscles or stimulate the nerves that trigger the swallowing reflex.
  • Learning swallowing techniques. You may also learn ways to place food in your mouth or to position your body and head to help you swallow. You may learn exercises and new swallowing techniques to help compensate for dysphagia caused by neurological problems such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease.

1. Swallowing therapy

You may be referred to a speech and language therapist for swallowing therapy. He is trained to work with people with eating or swallowing difficulties.

2. Feeding tubes

They can be used to provide nutrition while you're recovering your ability to swallow. They may also be required in severe cases of dysphagia that put you at risk of malnutrition and dehydration.

There are 2 types of feeding tubes:

  • a nasogastric tube – a tube passed through your nose and down into your stomach
  • a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube – a tube is implanted directly into your stomach

3. Dietary changes

You may be referred to a dietitian for advice about changes to your diet to make sure you receive a healthy, balanced diet. A SLT should give you advice about softer foods and thickened fluids that you may find easier to swallow. They may also try to ensure you're getting the support you need at meal times.

4. Medications

Prescription oral medications or corticosteroids are sometimes used for dysphagia associated with GERD. Medications can also be used to relax the esophagus and reduce discomfort for dysphagia caused by esophageal spasms.

5. Postural Adjustments

Postural adjustments are changes in body and head posture that may be recommended to reduce aspiration or residue. Changes in posture may alter the speed and direction of a food or liquid, and protect the airway to help the patient swallow safely. Research shows that one postural adjustment doesn’t work for all patients. In general, postural adjustments are intended to be short-term treatments that are used to reduce the chances of aspiration. Specific postures include head tilt, head rotation, chin tuck, and head back. A speech pathologist should work with the patient to decide what posture change would be best.

6. Swallow Maneuvers

Swallow maneuvers address different physiologic swallowing problems. Examples of swallow maneuvers include supraglottic swallow, super supraglottic swallow, and effortful or hard swallow. A speech pathologist would recommend these techniques.

In severe cases, treatment may not be successful, and in these cases the person may need to adjust to a liquid diet or use a feeding tube. If you have trouble swallowing, be sure to see a doctor and follow his or her advice. Also, the things listed above can help ease the symptoms.