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Swallowing Problems

How Are Swallowing Problems Treated?

Treatment depends on the type of swallowing problem you have. Sometimes, a swallowing problem will resolve itself without treatment. On other occasions, swallowing problems can be managed easily. Complex swallowing problems may require treatment by a specialist or several specialists.

If you have a chewing or swallowing problem there are several things you can do to make eating and drinking easier and safer, including:

Positioning

  • Sit upright at a 90-degree angle.
  • Tilt your head slightly forward.
  • Remain sitting upright or standing for 15 to 20 minutes after eating a meal.

Dining environment

  • Minimize distractions in the area where you eat.
  • Stay focused on the tasks of eating and drinking.
  • Do not talk with food in your mouth.

Amount and rate

  • Eat slowly.
  • Cut food into small pieces and chew it thoroughly. Chew food until it becomes liquid in your mouth before swallowing.
  • Do not try to eat more than 1/2 teaspoon of food at a time.

Swallowing

  • You may need to swallow two or three times per bite or sip.
  • If food or liquid catches in your throat, cough gently or clear your throat, and swallow again before taking a breath. Repeat if necessary.
  • Concentrate on swallowing frequently.

Saliva management

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Periodically suck on Popsicles, ice chips or lemon ice, or drink lemon-flavored water to increase saliva production, which will increase swallowing frequency.

Food consistency

  • Minimize or eliminate foods that are tough to chew and eat more soft foods.
  • Puree food in a blender.
  • If thin liquids cause you to cough, thicken them with a liquid thickener (your speech pathologist can recommend one for you). You can also substitute thicker liquids for thin ones, such as nectar for juice and cream soup for plain broth.

Taking medications

  • Crush pills and mix them with applesauce or pudding.
  • Ask your pharmacist for his or her recommendations on which pills should not be crushed and which medications can be purchased in a liquid form.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Andrew Seibert, MD on September 19, 2012

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