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Swallowing problems

Alternate 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 are:

  • 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 have a medical evaluation, but these general tips may help with swallowing problems:

  • 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 told you it is OK to.
  • You may need someone to remind you to finish swallowing.
  • Do not talk and swallow at the same time.
  • Sit upright for 30 - 45 minutes after eating.

Do not drink thin liquids without checking with your doctor or therapist first. It may 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

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

Updated: 5/23/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, and George F Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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