Chewing and swallowing is something most people master at a very young age. But for some people, this everyday task remains challenging for a lifetime. Others might find that they initially master the challenge of swallowing, but periodically experience problems that cause discomfort, concern, or embarrassment.
If you have persistent or recurring trouble swallowing–what doctors call dysphagia–you should see an otolaryngologist to eliminate potential causes like esophageal cancer, but if you need help training your swallowing muscles, myofunctional therapy can help.
Symptoms of a Swallowing Problem
Some people suspect dysphagia because they have a condition that makes it more likely (see below), but you can also identify the condition because of its symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty getting food or drink down
- Pain when you swallow
- A feeling that food is stuck or traveling very slowly through your chest
- Coughing, gagging, or choking when you try to swallow
- Foods come back up–they may even come out your mouth or nose
- Lingering pain in chest
- Severe or persistent heartburn
- Drooling because you can’t swallow saliva
Many of these symptoms can be caused by other serious conditions, so it’s important to eliminate other possibilities by seeing a doctor for a definitive diagnosis before seeking any treatment.
What Could Be Causing Swallowing Problems?
As we mentioned before, swallowing problems are often related to serious health conditions that need acute medical attention. It’s important to consider all the potential causes of your swallowing problem before seeking treatment.
Some potential causes of swallowing problems include:
- Brain or spine injury
- Nerve disorders (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, etc.)
- Inflammation of the throat (esophagitis)
- Food stuck in the throat
- Esophageal tumors
- Tissue outside the esophagus that press on it
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Esophagus spasms
- Scarring in the throat
- Developmental problems
- Dry mouth
- Inadequate chewing
- Food choices
Basically, we can break the causes down into three categories. Some of the causes affect your body’s ability to control muscles or the muscles’ ability to execute the swallowing motion. This includes stroke, injury, nerve disorders, and spasms.
Other causes create obstructions in your esophagus. This can include diverticula, which are unusual pouches in your throat that catch food, cancer, in which tumors can grow to obstruct your throat. GERD and esophagitis (swelling of the throat, which can be related to colds or allergies) can cause your throat to narrow.
Finally, difficulty swallowing may be because the food is not adequately prepared for swallowing. This might be because you are choosing food that you can’t properly chew, you aren’t able to chew efficiently, or you have dry mouth.
Myofunctional Therapy Can Help
Once you’ve eliminated serious conditions that require attention from a doctor, myofunctional therapy might be a great option to help treat your swallowing problems. Although some swallowing muscles function involuntarily, many of them can be controlled by you, and learning proper techniques can improve your ability to swallow food.
Myofunctional therapy can be especially helpful for teens who are experiencing developmental problems. It can help them develop healthy habits that encourage proper development to head off problems in the future, as well as enjoy other benefits of myofunctional therapy.
And, of course, digesting food starts in the mouth, with chewing. If you’re not chewing properly, swallowing is much harder. Myofunctional therapy can help you improve your chewing efficiency so that food is ready to be swallowed.