Swallowing is a complex process that involves many structures in the head and neck. Any condition which affects these structures can lead to difficulty swallowing. Some common health conditions which can cause swallowing problems include: cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis. These conditions can lead to weakness, inflammation, or obstruction in the throat or mouth which can make swallowing difficult or impossible.
The swallowing reflex occurs as part of the autonomic nervous system. The reflex involves both voluntary and involuntary components. The voluntary component consists of the initiation and maintenance of swallow during voluntary swallowing, which is controlled by the central nervous system (CNS). There are two parts of the swallowing reflex: the pharyngeal swallow and the esophageal swallow. The pharyngeal swallow begins at the larynx and leads to the posterior pharynx. The esophageal swallow begins in the lower esophagus and passes through the upper esophagus, stomach, and finally the small intestine.
Let’s discuss about the condition that can affect swallowing!
Disorders which can affect swallowing
Swallowing disorders can cause difficulty in moving food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach, or can cause difficulty in breathing. There are many different types of swallowing disorders, which can be caused by a variety of medical conditions. Some common swallowing disorders include dysphagia, achalasia, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Dysphagia is a medical term that refers to the inability to swallow due to an impairment in brain function or motility of the muscles in the esophagus. Dysphagia can be caused by many different conditions. For example, the condition may be caused by a stroke or brain tumor, as well as other medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or diabetes.
- Achalasia is a condition that causes the esophagus to relax and shrink, preventing food from being properly swallowed.
- GERD refers to an abnormal spasm in the lower portion of the stomach that leads to acid reflux into the esophagus.
How to improve your swallowing?
Swallowing problems can cause difficulty eating, drinking, and speaking. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve swallowing. The first step is to see a speech-language pathologist (SLP). An SLP can evaluate your swallowing and give you specific exercises to improve your swallowing. Other strategies to improve swallowing include changes in diet and drinking techniques. For example, chew your food or drink from a straw to increase the surface area of the food you are swallowing.
Another strategy is to try chewing gum after swallowing. Chewing gum stimulates the movement of food through your throat and makes it easier for you to swallow. Drinking too fast will also make it harder for you to swallow.
Drinking slowly, but taking small sips, will help you swallow more easily. If you have any questions about improving swallowing, the SLP can give you tips to get started.
In conclusion, swallowing disorders can be caused by a variety of health conditions, some of which are mild and easily treated, while others can be more serious. If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing, it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause and receive proper treatment.