Ms Lee Yan Shan, Speech Therapist, explained that dysphagia is a symptom of many medical conditions that makes it hard for a person to eat and drink. She also gave some advice on how caregivers can help someone cope with dysphagia.
People who choke or cough while swallowing may have a deeper problem than just food going down the wrong way.
They may have dysphagia or swallowing difficulties, a condition that makes it hard for a person to eat and drink.
While coughing or choking when swallowing are symptoms of dysphagia, some do not show these symptoms when food or drinks are swallowed into the lungs, said Ms Lee Yan Shan, a speech therapist at Singapore General Hospital.
Dysphagia is a symptom of many medical conditions, such as throat and mouth cancer, general weakness from a stroke, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Older adults are at a higher risk of the condition and they are also at a greater risk of conditions that may result in dysphagia.
People who have difficulties swallowing may tend to eat or drink less or take a long time to finish their meals.
This puts them at a higher risk of malnutrition and dehydration, said Ms Lee. Speech therapists can recommend diet or fluid modifications and feeding strategies to reduce the patient’s risk of choking and sucking food into the airway, she said.
Besides coughing or choking during swallowing, other symptoms may include:
- Drooling and the inability to control saliva in the mouth.
- Difficulty initiating swallowing.
- Significant food or liquid residue in the mouth even after attempts to swallow it.
- Regurgitation of food.
- Pain while swallowing.
- Sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Recurrent pneumonia symptoms.
Ms Lee gives the following advice on how caregivers can help someone cope with dysphagia:
Cut food like meat and vegetables
into small pieces, making it easier
to bite and swallow.
2 Thicken fluids with commercially
available powdered and liquid
thickeners. These are mainly made
from starch and gum. Fluids that
are viscous flow at a slower rate.
This helps to minimise choking.
3 Monitor for worsening signs of
dysphagia and, possibly,
When food and drinks enter the
airway instead ofthe stomach, it
can cause choking and coughing
and may lead to a type of chest
infection called aspiration
pneumonia. Symptoms may
include coughing with yellow or
green phlegm, fever, fatigue,
shortness of breath and loss of
appetite or weight loss.
4 Consider the patient’s wishes. Talk
to him about what is important to
him at various stages of his illness.
For example, in his last days of life,
he may choose to continue eating
or drinking despite the risk of food
or drinks entering his airway.
5 Take the patient with dysphagia to
the dentist. Oral hygiene is very
important. Bacteria in the mouth
can be sucked into the lungs,
together with the food, drinks and
saliva during swallowing. This
increases the risk of aspiration
Let the dentist know that the
person has dysphagia, so that he
can take extra precautions during
the dental procedure.