The medical word for having trouble swallowing is dysphagia. Swallowing is a complicated process that needs the action of reflexes mainly occurring in the pharynx and oesophagus, but in the brain too. Swallowing is an automated action, as in, it happens automatically as food reaches the back of the throat, there isn’t any thought in the action once it’s started. Due to this complexity, a number of issues can cause dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.
Trouble swallowing might occur because of the conscious promotion of swallowing, movement of food to the pharynx, closing the nasal passageways when swallowing, opening of the oesophagus, and physical blockages preventing the passage of food. Alternatively, swallowing issues may result from problems within the oesophagus or pharynx, and these may be triggered by diseases of the muscles that control these organs. Quite simply, swallowing issues have two separate causes: oropharyngeal (which means caused by an issue in the mouth or pharynx) or oesophageal (caused by an issue in the oesophagus, the body part that carries food from the mouth to the stomach).
Dysphasia symptom fall into two categories: those that are related to swallowing and those that are not related to swallowing. The elderly may experience swallowing problems as a result of ill-fitting dentures or the inability to chew food thoroughly; sometimes people with these problems swallow large chunks of food that get caught in the oesophagus. However, normally this only happens if there is some other type of problem in the pharynx or oesophagus, like a stricture.
However, the most frequently occurring sign of dysphagia is the feeling that food is sticking, which can result in coughing or even regurgitation of food. Another ‘difficulty swallowing’ symptom is not being able to control food or saliva in the mouth, trouble swallowing, choking, subsequent eating issues and occasionally the occurrence of pneumonia. A big exception to this rule is when the individual is having difficulty swallowing fluids instead of solids. That is typically a version called achalasia and is caused by issues that make the lower oesophagus become narrower, which causes problems along its length.
Unless dysphagia has been precipitated by a stroke (which does usually improve), painful swallowing can be treated in a number of ways, and normally the treatment provides stable and progressive improvement. The prognosis for the exact cause of the trouble with swallowing will affect treatment and therapy will help with the underlying cause and adapt to the way the patient responds to treatment.
Generally, the outlook for swallowing problems caused by a non-malignant obstruction in the oesophagus is positive and will respond to treatment successfully. Even if there is a malignant obstruction that is causing the swallowing problems, an endoscopic resection of part of the tumour can be performed or a stent can be inserted. Normally, treatment of similar problems, such as achalasia (difficulty in swallowing liquids), is very effective. Also, current progress in diagnosis is showing new insights into oesophageal function; high resolution and 3D manometry are having a huge impact on the field.
Frequently dysphagia becomes apparent when one has problems swallowing pills. This is a fairly common problem and it can happen for different reasons. There is some evidence that many patients who experience issues swallowing tablets end up crushing them or dissolving them in water. While this can occasionally be the answer, it has to be done carefully, and patients are recommended to ask a doctor prior to doing this. Because they do not know that other options exist, quite often patients wind up crushing tablets.
If you’re experiencing difficulty with swallowing pills, there are available alternatives. First look into whether or not there are alternate versions of your drug, since sometimes there is a liquid medicine or a dispersible, buccal or an ortho-dispersible tablet available instead. Certain medications are only available when a doctor prescribes them, since they don’t have a license to be sold by a pharmacist. However, check with a pharmacist, as s/he will be able to provide you with any necessary information in this regard. Sometimes a physician or pharmacist will recommend that you dissolve a pill in water prior to taking it if swallowing tablets whole is an issue for you. Nevertheless, as previously mentioned, this should only be done if recommended by a professional. If there aren’t any oral alternatives, it’s worth inquiring about whether there’s a patch, cream or inhaled option available. Few medications may be available in these forms; however, it does not hurt to ask, and especially if you experience a great deal of difficulty swallowing pills.