What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia (dis-FAY-juh) is the medical term for the symptom of difficulty with swallowing, or a swallowing disorder. Dysphagia can occur with children or adults. Feeding disorders arise when children present with difficulty during their feedings.


Swallowing Therapy

Swallowing therapy, or Dysphagia therapy, may be required for children or adults who experience difficulty, discomfort, pain while swallowing, or who are unable to swallow food or liquid. Swallowing occurs in a series of steps. Therapy may focus on one or all of the steps:

Oral phase – involves accepting food or liquid into the mouth and moving it backward over the tongue  toward the throat.

Pharyngeal phase – in the throat the tongue pushes back to squeeze food or liquid material downward, the airway closes, and the esophagus opens to accept the material.

Esophageal phase – the "food tube", or esophagus, squeezes solid or liquid into the stomach.

Swallowing therapy is needed for children or adults who have a variety of conditions. These include gastroesophageal reflux disease, stroke, dementia, head or spinal cord injury, cancer of the head, neck, or esophagus and nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and cerebral palsy.

In order to remediate a swallowing disorder, some patients are recommended to undergo surgeries, take medicines, or participate in swallowing therapy. A speech pathologist may help you to modify your food consistencies, alter your body position while you eat or teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles in your throat. In severe cases, some people may require feeding tubes.

Feeding Therapy

Feeding therapy addresses pediatric patients who may demonstrate problems gathering food and getting ready to suck, chew, or swallow, or difficulty with feeding due to food aversion. Feeding disorders may occur due to a variety of contributing factors, as listed below:

Gastrointestinal disorders: Often called GI disorders, incorporate a wide variety of digestive problems, such as reflux and slow gastric emptying, which cause problems with the movement of food through the digestive system.

Food allergies: Among other things can cause difficulty breathing, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as swelling in the mouth and throat.

Palatal defects: Such defects may cause chewing or swallowing to be physically uncomfortable or impossible.

Delayed exposure: Delayed introduction to a variety of solid foods, may cause difficulty with the introduction to them at a later time.

Sensory issues: May relate to problems of oral defensiveness or decreased oral awareness.

Motor issues: Children with physical challenges, such as in Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy, have a higher likelihood of demonstrating feeding issues due to poor muscle strength or coordination. When a child has a developmental disability in conjunction with a feeding disorder, it is important for that child to work with a team of specialists who fully understand the child's needs.

Behavioral issues: Any of the medical or physical issues listed above may create an aversion to acceptance of food.


"Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia) in Adults." Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia) in Adults. Accessed April 17, 2015. http://www.asha.org/public/speech/swallowing/Swallowing-Disorders-in-Adults/.

"Swallowing Disorders: MedlinePlus." U.S National Library of Medicine. Accessed April 17, 2015. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/swallowingdisorders.html.

"Program Details." Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at Kennedy Krieger Institute Understanding Feeding Disorders. Accessed April 17, 2015. http://feedingdisorders.kennedykrieger.org/understand.jsp.


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