Swallowing disorders, also called dysphagia (dis-FAY-juh), can occur at different stages in the swallowing process:

  • Oral phase – sucking, chewing, and moving food or liquid into the throat.
  • Pharyngeal phase – starting the swallowing reflex, squeezing food down the throat, and closing off the airway to prevent food or liquid from entering the airway (aspiration) or to prevent choking.
  • Esophageal phase - relaxing of the top and bottom of the esophagus (tube from the throat connecting to the stomach) and squeezing of food through the esophagus into the stomach.

What can cause swallowing problems?

  • Stroke, brain injury, Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's Disease and other neurological disease
  • Cancer in the mouth, throat or esophagus
  • Injury or surgery involving the head and neck

What are signs and symptoms or complications of dysphagia?

  • Coughing/throat clearing during or right after eating or drinking
  • Wet or gurgly sounding voice during or after eating or drinking
  • Extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow
  • Food or liquid leaking from mouth or getting stuck in mouth
  • Recurring pneumonia or chest congestion after eating
  • Weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat enough

Swallowing Therapy

The Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) will utilize a combination of compensatory techniques and direct treatment strategies to improve the safety of oral intake by reducing your risk for aspiration and maintaining quality of life.

Compensatory Techniques

Compensatory techniques are used to increase control of the swallow to protect the airway and reduce aspiration risk. These include:

  • Positioning strategies redirect the movement of food or liquid in the mouth and throat safely to the esophagus.
  • Swallowing maneuvers change the timing or strength of the movements of swallowing to safely move food or liquid in the mouth and throat safely to the esophagus.
  • Modification of food and liquid consistencies to improve control of allow for safe oral intake. This may include changing the thickness of liquids and/or softening, chopping, or pureeing solid foods.

Direct Treatment 

Direct treatment involves the completion of exercise to improve range of motion, coordination, and the strengthening of muscles of the jaw, lips, cheek, tongue, soft palate, and vocal cords to improve swallow function.

For additional information you can contact the Rehabilitation Services Department at UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center by calling 410-787-4433.