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Jul 04, 2023

Swallowing Awareness Day: Know when to ask for help

Allied Health and Clinical News

Just like breathing, swallowing is a reflex that is essential to everyday life. Humans swallow at least 900 times a day, we swallow food, liquids, medicine and saliva.

Around one million Australians have a swallowing difficulty – also known as dysphagia. Swallowing problems can occur at any stage of life, however, the knowledge of dysphagia and its implications remain largely unknown for most Australians. People who have trouble swallowing are at risk of poor nutrition and dehydration, while babies and children may not take in enough nutrients to support growth and brain development.

Swallowing Awareness Day 2022 is an opportunity to bring attention to swallowing disorders and to connect people with speech pathologists, the professionals who can help.

Meet Travis

Travis a 29-year-old with cerebral palsy has been a Northcott customer for 21 years. He loves exploring new places, going to the gym and swimming. He accesses a variety of Northcott’s services including Speech Pathology, as he has dysphagia. Northcott’s Speech Pathologists support Travis with safe swallowing practises. These include recommendations to changes to the textures of food or drink and prescribing exercises or techniques that help him swallow safely.

Northcott staff listen to me when I explain how I need my food to be prepared and organise swallowing assessments as I need them


Travis explains that learning swallowing techniques can be unique to each person. “Sometimes my swallowing changes throughout the day. I can eat things that aren’t blended easily during the day but I need blended food at night. It depends on the food I am having and how I feel as well.”

This is one of the reasons why is it important to see a professional if you have swallowing problems. They can provide you with personalised suggestions and a plan of action for swallowing support.

What to do about swallowing difficulties

Northcott Speech Pathologist Ellen says early identification is the key. Once you understand the signs and symptoms of swallowing difficulties referrals can be made for people at risk.

Signs and symptoms of swallowing difficulties

  • Your baby has difficulty sucking during breast or bottle feeding
  • A feeling that food or drink gets stuck in the throat
  • A feeling that food or drink is going the wrong way
  • Long meal times or eating slowly
  • Coughing, choking or frequent throat clearing during or after eating and drinking
  • Becoming short of breath or your breathing changes when eating and drinking
  • Avoiding certain foods because they are difficult to swallow
  • Unplanned weight loss for adults or for children, or failing to put on weight because of avoiding foods or finding it hard to eat
  • Frequent chest infections with no known cause

A swallowing problem can occur at any stage of life and can have a big impact on a person’s life. If you think you or a loved one might have a swallowing problem, seek professional help.

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