Dysphagia is a common affliction suffered by many. It can start subtly, often unnoticed as a significant change, but when it takes hold it can shape how you eat and function. When it happens on a regular basis, it’s best to seek professional advice such as from a doctor. However, waiting for treatment can sometimes take a while and therefore, the condition needs to be managed constantly in the interim. This article explores some ways that dysphagia can be self-managed.
What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a condition that hinders the swallowing function. Swallowing might be strained and painful and it may affect the desire for food and drink leading to malnourishment issues too. Generally speaking, there are three common types: oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal.
When the issue lies in the mouth, for example, with the tongue or chewing, it can be categorized as oral dysphagia.
This describes any issues that are caused by the throat area. This is more typical after a stroke.
The more serious form of dysphagia often requires corrective surgery procedures. This occurs when there is an esophageal blockage and normally calls for medical intervention in place of medication and self-management.
How to Deal with Dysphagia
How dysphagia is dealt with depends on the symptom severity. Though the main concern is swallowing difficulties, there are other things that can occur also. These include acid reflux and heartburn, stuck food sensations, gagging and choking, regurgitation, and a hoarse voice. If the issue does not require surgery, there are some steps you can take at home and in your lifestyle to make yourself feel better and improve the condition.
Cut food into small, cube-like pieces. Eat slowly and carefully and make sure one piece is swallowed and gone before starting on another piece. This can add a lot of time and effort to meal times but it is a method of ensuring the body receives the proper amount of nutrients, vitamins, and calories.
If minuscule bites are not cutting it, it is time to try some swallowing exercises. There are three common ones to pick from and they can easily be incorporated into a daily routine.
Supraglottic Swallow is where you practice holding your breath, then swallowing followed by a small-scale cough action.
Super Supraglottic Swallow is an increased intensity version of the supraglottic swallow where you hold your breath for longer and focus on the muscles involved.
Swallow with Force is where the mind focuses entirely on swallowing and puts a higher amount of concentrated effort into the action. This is a practice technique and is designed to retrain the swallowing muscles to encourage them to improve.
One way of targeting and improving dysphagia symptoms is by increasing the thickness of liquid supplements with the use of SimplyThick Easy Mix which is designed specifically with dysphagia issues in mind. Sometimes, food is not always an option as it causes pain before, during, and after eating. Therefore, especially in elderly patients, for example, those with dementia, nutritious supplements are required.
Posture and Positioning
Some of the symptoms can be managed through your posture and positioning during meal and snack times. The best way to sit to encourage easy swallowing is upright with a straight head, slightly tilted, but only slightly. Slumping down on the couch may be tempting, but it is detrimental to swallowing. Therefore, a proper dining setup if possible is the best recommended option. Sitting up straight allows for a clearer path and a clearer airway for food and drink to travel down to the stomach.
As touched on above, food is not always an option even if you cut it into tiny pieces. However, there are some foods that make dysphagia worse and some that are easier on the throat. Spicy food should probably be avoided at all costs as it tends to cause more severe heartburn which can only agitate the throat even more. Carb-based food such as pizza, potatoes, and white bread should all be avoided as they are thick and stodgy and can be difficult to swallow even without dysphagia problems.
Food that is safe includes pureed meat and vegetables, soups (preferably gazpacho style), and lots of moisture such as gravy, scrambled eggs, and soft cheese. Anything too dry will be too hard to swallow and this may mean a major diet change, but it will be worth it to be able to eat with lessened pain.
Dysphagia can be life-altering. It is debilitating when left to its own devices and often causes severe and unignorable pain which can lead to unhealthy weight loss and dehydration problems. Older patients are more at risk, especially those suffering from dementia, but dysphagia can strike at any age with any agenda. Sometimes, the only option is surgical intervention; however, in the early stages, if caught quickly, it can be managed at home.