If you haven’t heard of it before, dysphagia (pronounced “dis-fay-juh”) is the term for a swallowing disorder. There are multiple phases of a swallow and disruption in any part of the sequence has the ability to create difficulty swallowing or an unsafe swallow. Speech-language pathologists focus specifically on individuals with difficulty in the first two stages.
The oral phase includes the managing saliva and foods or liquids to prevent them from spilling out of the mouth, chewing, the coordination of your tongue, lips, and jaw to form a cohesive mass called a bolus, and moving the bolus of food or liquid to the back of the throat.
Next is the pharyngeal phase. This phase includes initiation of the swallow reflex, contraction of the throat or pharyngeal muscles to squeeze the bolus down, and closing off the airway to prevent food or liquid from “going down the wrong pipe” or in other words going into your lungs.
FUN FACT: When food or liquid get past our natural defenses and go into the lungs instead of the esophagus, this is called aspiration.
Lastly, the esophageal phase occurs when the food or liquid passes is transported from the esophagus into the stomach.
Speech-language pathologists can treat patients who suffer from dysphagia using a variety of methods including rehabilitative exercises to improve oral motor and swallowing function, teaching compensatory techniques to improve swallow safety, or a combination of both.
Find out more about our adult dysphagia services here.