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Most of us don’t even have to think about it but we swallow numerous times a day. However, swallowing for some can be a difficult and distressing task on a regular basis. Swallowing requires coordination and the cooperation of various nerves and muscles in the throat and digestive tract. When everything works fine, swallowing is naturally a smooth, seamless process we hardly notice but when things don’t work right, problems can range from bothersome to life-threatening. Swallowing disorders encompass a wide range of conditions that include the throat structures as well as digestive organs and the nervous system.
As ENT specialists, we evaluate, diagnose and treat swallowing disorders that arise from abnormalities in the throat and oral structures. These types of swallowing difficulties are known as oropharyngeal dysphagia.
Examination with a laryngoscope is extremely helpful in those with suspected oropharyngeal dysphagia. Once lubricated, the laryngoscope is gently passed through the nose and down the back of the throat into the larynx. This allows the ENT specialist to visualize the structures of the larynx (a.k.a. voice box) for nodules or other abnormal structures that could be interfering with the swallowing process. Food and liquid can be introduced while the scope is in place in order to see how the throat and tongue function during the actual swallowing process. If further evaluation of the esophagus is needed, a Trans Nasal Esophagoscopy (TNE), may be performed.
Once a diagnosis is made and a cause identified, a treatment plan can be formulated. Treatment may include speech therapy which helps with the neuromuscular function of the swallowing process. Occasionally, medications are prescribed to reduce the production of acid that is refluxing from the stomach. Other medications that reduce swelling caused by acid reflux or allergies may be prescribed as well. Most swallowing problems can be effectively treated once the diagnosis is identified but complex cases may require surgery and the collaboration of a team of different specialists to restore proper functioning of the swallowing process.
If you or a loved one frequently has difficulty swallowing, contact us immediately. Delaying diagnosis and treatment of swallowing disorders can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, infection, choking and even death. Our experienced and caring specialists are fully capable of identifying and treating swallowing disorders, call today!