A lot can go wrong when you are eating! We hardly think about the number of coordinated activities that harmoniously take place during the process of ingestion. More than 50 pairs of muscles work together to chew the food, prepare it to move down the larynx (voice box) through the esophagus (food pipe) all the way down to the stomach. All these complex neuromuscular activities must happen without letting a morsel of food enter the windpipe, which is adjacently placed to the food pipe. Most of us carry out this process quite effortlessly until we develop a common sore throat or are affected with a serious disorder in the brain or nervous system. Such conditions can weaken the throat/ mouth muscles and chances are one could have great difficulty in swallowing.
In such cases, a Swallow Therapist or Speech Language Therapist (SLP) will be able to assess the nature of the swallowing disorder and come up with a suitable treatment plan – swallow therapy plan based on the underlying diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis of the condition will be made further to understanding a patient’s medical history, the movement of his/her mouth muscles, the pattern of eating etc. Special tests like modified barium swallow and endoscopic assessment could be conducted to observe the movement of food through one’s body.
Who Needs Swallow Therapy?
Dysphagia is the term used to denote a condition when one experiences difficulty swallowing. Some of the common symptoms of dysphagia include having pain while swallowing, sensation of food getting stuck in the throat, heartburn, regurgitation, vomiting, sudden loss of weight etc. Dysphagia can be for liquids, solids or both. Stroke, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, mouth cancer and neck surgery are the common causes of most swallowing disorders.
How does Swallow Therapy work?
In order to improve swallowing, a Swallow Therapist can help you with exercises which train the muscles in the mouth to function better. Special swallowing techniques can be suggested to assist different stages of dysphagia including the oral phase (moving food from mouth to throat), pharyngeal phase (initiating swallowing reflux, moving food to esophagus without letting it enter windpipe) and esophageal phase (squeezing food from food pipe to stomach). You will also be taught to position the body in such a way that it will aid in swallowing. A change in diet could be recommended to ease ingestion. After careful monitoring, if the symptoms are found severe, the patient will be administered with a feeding tube.
Swallow therapy employs a combination of compensatory techniques and direct treatment