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Can dysphagia be cured?

Depending on the cause of the dysphagia, rehabilitation exercises may help improve the swallowing function. Compensatory strategies can also improve the safety and ease of swallowing. A speech therapist will be able to prescribe exercises or strategies that are suitable for you or your loved one.

Here are some useful tips to cope with swallowing difficulties:

1. Maintain good oral hygiene

  • Research has shown that good oral hygiene reduces the chance of acquiring pneumonia. Caution: For some people with difficulty swallowing, gargling might pose a risk of liquids entering the airway. An alternative to gargling would be using a damp towel or gauze to clean the interior of the mouth.

2. Adjust mealtimes environment/setting

  • Sit upright during mealtimes. If possible, sit on a chair instead of staying in bed during mealtimes.

  • Feed only when alert.

  • Reduce distractions during mealtimes.

3. Adopt safe eating habits

  • Do not talk with food/liquids in mouth.

  • Clear food/liquids in mouth before taking the next mouthful. To remind the person with difficulty swallowing to clear any residue, caregivers may prompt verbally or put an empty spoon into the person’s mouth.

4. Modify the diet

  • Drink from a spoon of appropriate size instead of drinking from the cup. Put the whole spoon into the mouth instead of slurping from the spoon.

  • Straw-drinking is not recommended for people with dysphagia as it requires more coordination than cup-drinking.

  • Add thickener to liquids. Thickened liquids flow slower, allowing more time for the control of the liquid. Caution: Thicker liquids are not always better. A speech therapist will be able to advise you on the appropriate consistency.

  • Eat food of softer texture or cut in smaller pieces. Blend if necessary.

  • Avoid taking solid and liquid in one single spoonful (e.g. noodle soup). This requires more coordination since solid and liquid travel at different speeds, and may not be suitable for people with difficulty swallowing.

  • If finishing a meal is tiring, try small, frequent meals.

If in doubt, speak to your doctor for a referral to a speech therapist to determine if you or your loved one suffers from dysphagia, and if there are any suitable exercises or strategies.


Ref: S13