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Swallowing problems

Alternative names

Dysphagia - self-care

What to expect at home

Some people have a hard time swallowing foods or liquids. This is called dysphagia.

Symptoms of swallowing problems include:

  • Coughing or choking, either during or after eating
  • Gurgling sounds from the throat, during or after eating
  • Throat clearing after drinking or swallowing
  • Slow chewing or eating
  • Coughing food back up after eating
  • Hiccups after swallowing
  • Chest discomfort during or after swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss

Symptoms may be mild or severe.

Home care

Most people with dysphagia should be checked by a health care provider. But these general tips may help.

  • Keep mealtime relaxed.
  • Sit up as straight as possible when you eat.
  • Take small bites, less than 1 teaspoon of food per bite.
  • Chew well and swallow your food before taking another bite.
  • If one side of your face or mouth is weaker, chew food on the stronger side of your mouth.
  • Do not mix solid foods with liquids in the same bite.
  • Do not try to wash down solids with sips of liquids, unless your speech or swallowing therapist says this is OK.
  • Do not talk and swallow at the same time.
  • Sit upright for 30 to 45 minutes after eating.
  • Do not drink thin liquids without checking with your doctor or therapist first.

You may need someone to remind you to finish swallowing. It may also help to ask caregivers and family members not to talk to you when you are eating or drinking.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if:

  • You cough or have fever or shortness of breath
  • You are losing weight
  • Your swallowing problems are getting worse

References

Kahrilas PJ, Pandolfino JE. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 42.

Dysphagia. Rockville, MD. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders . October 2010. NIH publications 10-4307.

Updated: 5/15/2014

Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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