Dysphagia

About dysphagia

Dysphagia is where you have problems swallowing. Some people with dysphagia have problems swallowing certain foods or drinks, while others cannot swallow at all.

a graphic showing a normal swallow

Signs of dysphagia include:

  • coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
  • a feeling that food is stuck in your throat or chest
  • a gurgly, wet-sounding voice when eating or drinking
  • drooling and having problems chewing your food
  • weight loss, dehydration and repeated chest infections.

Non-urgent advice: About aspiration

Aspiration can be a risk if you have dysphagia

Aspiration is when food or fluid enters the lungs instead of going down the food pipe into the stomach.  People may aspirate on food and drink when they are eating and drinking but they can also aspirate on saliva or vomit too.

Aspiration can lead to aspiration pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is when bacteria enters the lungs and causes a severe infection.  Often this bacteria gets into the lungs through food, fluid or saliva.

Aspiration pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death for people with learning disabilities, which sometimes could be avoided.

Non-urgent advice: Managing dysphagia

If you have dysphagia there are things that can help to keep you safe and well.  You may have seen a speech and language therapist or SLT.  SLT’s provide assessment, diagnosis and treatment for people who have swallowing difficulties.  Following an assessment, an eating and drinking care plan or mealtime guide may be provided.

Many things contribute to being able to eat and drink as safely as possible.  The consistency of the food, positioning and environment are some of the things that will be considered in your mealtime guide.  Please see the Posture for eating/drinking and Safe and enjoyable mealtimes sections for more information.

Do:

  • follow your speech and language therapist’s guidance
  • be aware that people with swallowing problems can also find it difficult to swallow their own saliva and may need support with this.  Please see the Secretion Management and Suction sections for more information.
  • keep your mouth clean as this means a lower risk of aspirating bacteria from saliva down to the lung see oral health section

Speak to your SLT or GP about if you or someone of someone you care for:

  • has difficulty swallowing
  • coughs or chokes while eating or drinking
  • feels like something’s stuck in the throat after eating
  • keeps bringing food or milk back up, sometimes through the nose
  • has a wet, gurgly voice after eating or drinking
  • is short of breath after eating or drinking
  • gets lots of chest infections

Support for those with dysphagia

The Learning Disability Health Support team based at Waddiloves supports adults with Learning Disabilities. When people are experiencing difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing (sometimes called dysphagia) members of the multi-disciplinary team will offer assessment, advice and support.

This service is for adults over 16 who have a learning disability and dysphagia (swallowing problems), living in the Bradford, Airedale and Craven localities.

Further resources on dysphagia

What is an unsafe swallow?

Signs to look out for:

Further Guidance

NHS – Public Health England – Dysphagia in people with learning difficulties: reasonable adjustments guidance