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Dysphagia, a difficult diagnosis to swallow

A child refusing food because she has dysphagia, a swallowing disorderDid you know that the average human swallows 700 times a day?! A process that is seemingly easy, automatic and effortless to most, but for some can be a very difficult and even dangerous.

People who have difficulties with swallowing can be any age, from infants all the way through to adults.

For people living with swallowing difficulties, they are at risk of poor nutrition, dehydration, pneumonia and even delayed brain development.

It is important to raise awareness and start the conversation about the impact swallowing disorders can have and to connect people with speech pathologists – allied health professionals who can help.

Speech pathologists can assess and treat people living with swallowing difficulties across all ages.

Dysphagia, a difficult diagnosis to swallow

5 facts about swallowing

1. Humans swallow between 500-700 times every day.

2. At any given time, more than 1 million Australians have difficulty with swallowing.

3. A swallowing difficulty is also called dysphagia.

4. 1 in 17 people will develop some form of dysphagia in their lifetime!

5. Every year, speech pathologists work with thousands of Australians to help manage, treat and maintain a safe swallow for people experiencing dysphagia.

Dysphagia in children

Approximately 25-45 per cent of children are impacted by dysphagia. To parents, this might look like problems with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, controlling saliva, having food go down the ‘wrong pipe’, keeping lips closed and/or dribbling.

If you notice any of these Speech Pathology Australia signs or symptoms below, a speech pathologist can help by assessing, diagnosing and treating your child.

  • Takes a long time to chew
  • Food getting stuck in the throat
  • Changes in voice, including nasal or ‘wet’ speech
  • Difficulty chewing or controlling food in the mouth
  • Coughing or choking when swallowing
  • Changes in eating habits, e.g. eating slowly or avoiding meals altogether
  • Significant, unintended weight loss
  • Recurrent chest infections or pneumonia
  • Food in the nose
  • General weakness, noticeable change in mental status, and the overall effects of losing strength.

How can a speech pathologist help?

If you or your child are experiencing swallowing difficulties, a speech pathologist can help in many ways to help you manage a safe swallow and increase enjoyment of meal times for maintained nutrition.

This can be achieved through providing exercises to strengthen the muscles that are used during a swallow, modifying the type or textures of foods and fluids to better suit your swallowing abilities, and providing strategies around improving the safety of your swallow including posture and equipment changes.

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