Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season, and what better way to start off a season of feasting and parties than with a holiday dedicated to eating? Since you’re going to be swallowing a lot of food over the next month and a half, now is a good time to learn about swallowing difficulties and what might cause them.
In any given year, approximately 1 in 25 adults experience problems with swallowing, CEENTA ENT doctor Darrell Klotz, MD, said. For example, you may find you choke or cough when you swallow your food, or you have trouble swallowing food on the first try. Sometimes it may feel like the food is stuck in your throat, you have pressure in your chest, or food comes back up after you swallow. For some, these problems are temporary. But for others, issues with swallowing can lead to significant discomfort and lost workdays. In extreme cases, those with swallowing problems may even lose weight, as they struggle to get enough food and liquid to provide adequate nutrition. So how do you know if you should be worried?
Common causes of swallowing disorders include:
- Reflux: Reflux is when acid, bile or stomach content flows up from the stomach and out the esophagus. This can be triggered by certain foods we eat or sometimes due to a loose valve between the stomach and the esophagus (hiatal hernia). Reflux can be treated by changing your diet, using acid reflux reducers (antacids, proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers) or by surgery to fix a hiatal hernia.
- Thyroid or tonsil enlargement: Hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, and thyroid cancer can all cause an enlarged thyroid. Enlarged tonsils can develop from recurrent infections, or for unclear reasons. An enlarged thyroid or tonsil can cause restriction in the passage of food in some cases.
- Salivary issues: If your mouth is too dry, you won’t have enough saliva to lubricate your food so that it moves down your throat easily. Dry mouth can be the result of a disease, such as Sjogrens Syndrome. However, it is also a known side effect of many medications, or can result from medical treatments that target the salivary gland, such as surgeries or radiation therapy used to treat certain cancers.
- Neurological disorders: Parkinson’s, ALS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and stroke are examples of neurological disorders that can affect different phases of the swallowing mechanism.
- Esophageal disorders: The esophagus may develop strictures or pockets (diverticulum), or can develop problems with the muscles themselves in which they become overly tight (achalasia) or do not contract properly (dysmotility or spasm).
- Cancer: Oral cancer or esophageal cancer occurs when tumors form in the throat anywhere from the mouth all the way down to the stomach, which can cause restriction and swallowing difficulty. While cancer of the stomach can be difficult to detect and is not often diagnosed until it’s more advanced, cancers of the oral cavity and esophagus present commonly as pain, or a lump in the throat.
If you do have a swallowing disorder, the good news is that several treatment options are available. They may include exercising your swallowing muscles, esophageal dilation, endoscopy, medicine, surgery, or changing the food you eat.
If you find you’re having difficulty swallowing, make an appointment to see one of the voice and swallowing specialists here at CEENTA. They will help you get back on track to swallowing all your meals with minimal difficulty. You’ll be thankful you did.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Klotz practices in our SouthPark office. To make an appointment with him or any of our ENT doctors or voice & swallowing specialists, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.