Dysphagia, a difficult diagnosis to swallow

By Youthrive Speech Pathologist Freeda Thong


What is Swallowing Awareness Day?

Speech Pathology Australia is hosting Swallowing Awareness day on the 13th of March 2019 this year. Did you know that the average human swallows 700 times a day?! A process that is seemingly easy, automatic and effortless to most, but for some can be very difficult and even dangerous. People who have difficulties with swallowing can be any age, from infants all the way through to adults. For people living with swallowing difficulties, they are at risk of poor nutrition, dehydration, pneumonia and even delayed brain development. Speech pathologists are allied health professionals who can assess and treat people living with swallowing difficulties across all ages. Speech Pathology Australia have created this day to raise awareness and start the conversation about the impact swallowing disorders can have and to connect people with speech pathologists who can help.


5 facts about swallowing

  1. A swallowing difficulty is also called dysphagia.
  2. Humans swallow between 500-700 times a day.
  3. Every year, speech pathologists work with thousands of Australians to help manage, treat and maintain a safe swallow for people experiencing with dysphagia.
  4. At any given time more than 1 million Australians have difficulty with swallowing.
  5. 1 in 17 people will develop some form of dysphagia in their lifetime!


Dysphagia in children

Approximately 25-45% of a typically developing paediatric population are impacted by dysphagia. This may present as problems with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, controlling saliva, having food go down the ‘wrong pipe’, keeping lips closed and/or dribbling. If you notice any of these Speech Pathology Australia signs or symptoms below, a speech pathologist can help by assessing, diagnosing and treating your child.

  • Takes a long time to chew
  • Food gets stuck in throat
  • Changes in voice, including nasal or ‘wet’ speech
  • Difficulty chewing or controlling food in the mouth
  • Coughing or choking when swallowing
  • Changes in eating habits, e.g.: eating slowly or avoiding meals altogether
  • Significant, unintended weight loss
  • Recurrent chest infections or pneumonia
  • Food in the nose
  • General weakness, noticeable change in mental status, and the overall effects of losing strength.


How does a Speech Pathologist help?

If you or your child are experiencing swallowing difficulties, a speech pathologist can help it multiple ways to help you to manage a safe swallow and increase enjoyment of meal times for maintained nutrition. This can be achieved through providing exercises to strengthen your child’s muscles that are used during a swallow, modifying the type or textures of foods and fluids to better suit your swallowing abilities, and providing strategies around improving the safety of your swallow, including posture and equipment changes. For further information about swallowing or to get involved please click here.


For more information about Speech Pathology, please click here.