Difficulty in swallowing is a symptom of dysphagia wherein the person has a sensation of difficulty in swallowing food or drink. For such people solid or liquid substance does not pass easily from mouth to the stomach. The swallowing mechanism has a lack of sensation in the pharynx portion of the oesophagus. Sometimes the swallowing difficulty may be felt along with a pain also and in some cases the person may not even be able to swallow. A persistent swallowing difficulty must be taken seriously and would require treatment.
The symptom or the condition can occur in people of any age but can also occur in adults and more specifically in older adults. The symptoms that indicate dysphagia or difficulty swallowing are the abnormal sensation while swallowing, not able to swallow either solid or liquid, sometimes having pain while swallowing, being hoarse while talking, regurgitation or bringing the food back up from the lower oesophagus or stomach, having heartburns, losing weight and drooling.
Causes of difficulty in swallowing can be several like esophageal dysphagia that occurs due to inability of the esophageal sphincter muscle to relax to let smooth passage of food substance in the stomach, a narrow esophagus, or tumours in esophagus, GERD, scleroderma or a scar-like tissue development in the esophagus thereby causing the esophageal sphincter muscle to not relax properly.
The condition can also be due to certain neurological disorders or cancer. Treatment of difficulty swallowing depends upon the cause of the disorder. It varies for all types of dysphagia. For example, oropharyngeal dysphagia can be treated with the help of a few exercises and learning some swallowing techniques, esophageal dysphagia can be treated by esophageal dilation or with medications or with surgery. Treating severe dysphagia will require following a special liquid diet and a feeding tube to aid in transporting the food to the stomach. Certain cases of dysphagia do require surgery to be treated.
It is important to treat dysphagia or difficulty swallowing for proper intake of food. Treatment depends upon the type and cause of the disorder. If it is due to oropharyngeal dysphagia, treatment includes learning exercises and swallowing techniques. The swallowing therapist helps you to learn some exercise that would aid in coordinating the swallowing muscles or learn to stimulate the nerves again that are responsible for swallowing reflex.
Some diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease can also cause dysphagia which can be managed by learning techniques on how to swallow the food. Esophageal dysphagia can be treated either by dilating the esophagus, or with medications or with the help of surgery. In esophageal dilation the narrow esophagus or a tight esophageal sphincter is expanded with the help of an endoscope attached to a special balloon.
If the difficult swallowing is due to GERD, it can be treated using certain medications like corticosteroids and muscle relaxants to relieve eosinophilic esophagitis and esophageal spasms respectively. Surgery may be required if there is an esophageal tumour or tight esophageal sphincter or pharyngoesophageal diverticulum. A severe dysphagia can be treated with a special liquid diet that could help you maintain a good health and prevent dehydration or sometimes a feeding tube to aid in bypassing the food through the dysfunctional esophagus.
People who experience swallowing difficulty and if the condition persists for a long time, also have pain while swallowing, have a sensation while swallowing near the pharynx that may suggest difficulty in swallowing, or have GERD quite often are eligible for the treatment.
If a person feels difficulty in swallowing a solid or liquid food momentarily and the condition is not persistent, then the person is not eligible for treatment of dysphagia.
Normally the treatment of treatment for difficulty swallowing does not have any side effects and can be done safely and effectively. Medications like corticosteroids and muscle relaxants can have some side effects like easy bruising, thinning of the skin, weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, glaucoma, blurred vision, muscle weakness, drowsiness and fatigue and loss of appetite.
After the treatment has been received it is suggested that the patient takes soft or liquid food, keep hydrated by having lot of water and juices and avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine which can worsen heartburn.
The recovery time may depend upon the cause of the problem. If the difficulty in swallowing is due to narrow esophagus or tight esophageal sphincter muscle or due to GERD then the surgical treatment or treatment with medication may take only a few days to recover. But if the underlying cause is due to a nervous disorder like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, then it may take more than a year or longer as these disorders cannot be cured completely.
The price of treatment of difficulty swallowing in India ranges from Rs. 300 to Rs. 2,000.
Yes, the results of the treatment are permanent.
The condition normally requires treatment like medication, help in learning swallowing techniques and surgery. But in some cases it can be treated with lifestyle changes and home remedies too. Difficulty swallowing can be treated by changing eating habits like taking small, frequent meals and chew food thoroughly before swallowing it. Person with difficulty swallowing can also avoid certain foods that cause them trouble in swallowing like juice, coffee, peanut butter, caramel etc. Such people should also avoid smoking and chewing tobacco, alcohol consumption and caffeine.