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Mar 13, 2024

Swallowing awareness day with speech pathologist Maddie

News Speech Therapy

Swallowing awareness day is held in March to highlight the difficulties that some people face with swallowing. The problem is known as dysphagia, and can have a significant impact on health and quality of life. However, early intervention including support from a speech pathologist can help. Northcott speech pathologist, Maddie, explains more.

What is dysphagia?

Eating and drinking is an everyday activity that many of us do not actively think about. However, for some people, swallowing is not easy and support from a speech pathologist can help.

Swallowing difficulties are known as dysphagia and can include any problem with swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, sucking or controlling saliva. It can also include problems taking medication or with food or drink ‘going down the wrong way’.

Dysphagia in children

If not managed properly, swallowing problems can result in medical issues such as chest infections, choking, poor nutrition and dehydration. In babies and children, poor nutrition may impact on growth and brain development.

How to spot swallowing problems

Dysphagia can present with several symptoms. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Your baby has difficulty sucking during breast or bottle feeding.
  • Long meal times or eating very slowly (taking more than 30 minutes to finish a meal).
  • Coughing, choking or frequent throat clearing during or after eating and drinking.
  • A feeling that food or drink gets stuck in the throat or is going down the wrong way.
  • Becoming short of breath or tiring quickly when eating and drinking.
  • Wet sounding breathing after eating or drinking.
  • Avoiding certain foods because they are difficult to swallow.
  • Unexplained weight loss or failing to put on weight because of avoiding foods or finding it hard to eat or chew food.
  • Frequent chest infections with no known cause.

Who is affected by dysphagia?

Anyone can be impacted by difficulties with swallowing. Dysphagia affects:

  • 95% of those with motor neurone disease
  • 65% of people who have had a stroke
  • 15% of people with a learning disability
  • 90% of people with cerebral palsy
  • 50% of people with down syndrome
  • 50% of paediatric neuromuscular disorders.

What can be done about swallowing difficulties?

Early identification is very important. If you notice any of the signs or symptoms in this article, speak to your doctor and/or your Northcott therapist. Or contact us to check if speech pathology from Northcott is available in your area.

Speech pathologists may recommend changes to the textures of foods or drinks and provide rehabilitation techniques and exercises to help people swallow safely. Support may also be available through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

What can be done at home to help with swallowing?

Swallowing difficulties can lead to stressful mealtimes! Here’s a few tips to help but don’t forget you can discuss with your speech pathologist to get more advice.

Don’t rush, we can all be guilty of rushing at meal times but a rushed meal for someone with dysphagia can cause real difficulties. A simple step for carers is to slow down and focus on the social aspect of eating. A calm, regular routine at meal times can help a lot.

Manage consistency, people with dysphagia may have specific needs in terms of texture and thickened fluids. It’s important to follow any diet or modifications suggested by your speech pathologist. This might be softer foods, pureed or minced meals.

Who else can help with dysphagia?

Speech pathologists work with other health professionals such as doctors, nurses, dietitians, lactation consultants, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists and others to help people with swallowing problems.

We have difficulties at mealtimes, but it is not dysphagia?

Many of the issues listed above are not necessarily caused by dysphagia. Discussions with your GP can help identify causes and solutions. Northcott therapists can also help with sensory issues, behavioural difficulties at mealtimes and children who may be seen as ‘fussy eaters’.

Next steps

Not only do we need to eat and drink to live, but eating and drinking should be an enjoyable experience and can be important family time. Many of our day-to-day social activities revolve around eating and drinking, such as going to restaurants and picnics.

For people with dysphagia, eating and drinking can be uncomfortable, stressful and very frustrating. They may avoid eating and drinking in front of friends and family due to embarrassment. These problems can lead to anxiety, depression and social isolation.

The first step is to seek help as there are many strategies that can make a real difference at mealtimes.

Information collated from various sources including Speech Pathology Australia.

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