Why Would Someone Need A Swallowing Specialist?

By Anna Siciliano

From difficulty swallowing to potential treatments available, see why a speech-language pathologist could have valuable information for you. 

Clinician and child
Why would someone need to see a swallowing specialist?
There are some common conditions that may cause swallowing problems, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Multiple Sclerosis 
  • Alzheimer's Disease/Dementia
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)
  • and many more...
What kinds of problems can someone have in swallowing?

  • Difficulty closing the lips
  • Difficulty moving the tongue to control food during chewing
  • The muscles of the face may be weak and allow food to collect in cheeks
  • Problems with sensation so an individual cannot feel where food is located
  • Problems triggering a swallow response
  • Difficulty coordinating the muscles that close and protect the airway, causing a person to cough or choke
  • Decreased control of muscles that push food through the throat
  • Damage to the muscles of the esophagus so they cannot contract
  • Any one of these problems can occur by itself or in combination with other abnormalities
Signs of Difficulty Swallowing:

  • Coughing while eating or drinking or soon after eating or drinking
  • "Wet” Sounding Voice during or after eating or drinking
  • Obvious Extra Effort or difficulty while chewing or swallowing
  • Taking longer than normal to eat
  • Fatigue or Shortness of Breath while eating
  • Weight Loss associated with poor nutrition
  • Repeated Pneumonia
  • How is a swallowing problem evaluated?

A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) is an expert in assessing swallowing disorders and establishing a treatment plan to improve the swallow.

Your doctor or the SLP may recommend having a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) evaluation where your swallow is viewed under x-ray to see how food or liquid is moving. Or they may perform a Fiberoptic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) where a fiberoptic tube is placed while you swallow food and liquid that is dyed blue. This allows them to visually see where the problem is and how to best go about treating it.

How is a swallowing problem treated?

No two patients are alike in their swallowing problems. Each patient with swallowing problems should have an individual treatment plan developed by the Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), and it is very important that this plan be followed carefully. Here are some examples of things that may be included in a patient’s plan for safer swallowing:

  • Exercising muscles that are not working properly with the SLP
  • Change head or body position
  • Changing kinds of foods or thickening liquids
  • Learning new ways of swallowing

If you are interested in speaking with a speech pathologist visit or Speech Pathology site.