Dysphagia – the diagnosis that is tough to swallow

Like breathing, swallowing is essential to everyday life, yet it is one of the most overlooked functions of the human body.

More than one million Australians have difficulty swallowing, which is why it is so important that we mark Swallowing Awareness Day, to bring attention to swallowing disorders, such as Dysphagia, and to recognise the incredible work of our speech pathologists.

Speech Pathologist, Lauren Ranalli, works with people who have swallowing difficulties to develop strategies to prevent Dysphagia.

Peninsula Health Speech Pathologist Jane Croger said swallowing was an essential bodily function.

“We swallow approximately 900 times in a day, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously,” she said.

“People who suffer from swallowing difficulties may be at risk of choking, dehydration and poor nutrition. Food, drinks or saliva can get into their lungs and cause chest infections such as pneumonia.”

Speech pathologists work with a variety of clients who have swallowing difficulties by assessing the muscles, nerves and structures used in speech and swallowing to diagnose and help manage their symptoms.

“These difficulties may be the result of a stroke, a head injury, Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease, dementia, cancer of the head and neck, or due to normal ageing.”

Educating patients and their families is an important part of the process, so there is an understanding about why a person has swallowing difficulties and the strategies or exercises that can help reduce symptoms.

For Audrey Thomas, swallowing difficulties have had a big impact on her life.

“I use to go out for meals and family gatherings, now the only way I can go to family gatherings is if I have some nourishment before I go,” she said.

Fortunately, Speech Pathologist Lauren Ranalli has been able to help Audrey overcome her swallowing difficulties. By recommending changes to the textures of foods or drinks, Lauren has been able to provide rehabilitation techniques and exercises to help Audrey learn to swallow safely.

“Lauren has been a tremendous help and very understanding,” Ms Thomas said. “She has arranged tests to determine where the problem is, given me exercises to help, and provided me with a list of supplementary foods to try.”

“The highlight of my treatment at Peninsula Health has been that they listened to me and gave me the encouragement I needed to feel confident living my life.”

Early detection of dysphagia is important to minimise health risks and manage swallowing difficulties. Symptoms to be aware of include coughing, gagging or choking while eating and drinking.

Our team of Speech Pathologists are here to help, read more here.