Dysphagia refers to a condition that causes difficulty swallowing. In some cases, it can be painful, or it can make swallowing impossible. Dysphagia can occur at any age, but it is more common in older adults. There are various potential causes of swallowing difficulties, and treatment will depend on the underlying cause. The treatment you are given can vary depending on whether you have oropharyngeal dysphagia or esophageal dysphagia.
There are several treatment approaches for esophageal dysphagia. They may include:
Your health care provider may provide a special diet or recommend a product like SimplyThick thickener gel to add to liquids to help with symptoms, depending on the root cause of the dysphagia. Diet is commonly used as treatment in conditions such as eosinophilic esophagitis.
Surgery may be required in some cases to clear the esophageal path. This is more common in conditions such as pharyngoesophageal diverticulum, esophageal tumor, or achalasia.
An endoscope with a special balloon attached may be used by your health care provider to stretch and expand the esophagus. This is a common treatment for esophageal strictures or a tight esophageal sphincter, also known as achalasia. It may also be done using a flexible tube or tubes that help to stretch the esophagus.
Conditions such as GERD that can lead to difficulties swallowing may be treated with prescription medications to reduce stomach acid. Muscle relaxants may be prescribed if the dysphagia is occurring due to an esophageal spasm, while corticosteroids might be prescribed for eosinophilic esophagitis.
In the case of oropharyngeal dysphagia, patients are more likely to be referred to a speech and language or a swallowing therapist. There are various types of physical therapy that might be recommended to help manage and reduce the symptoms of this condition, including:
You may learn different ways to place food in your mouth or how to better position your head or body to make it easier to swallow. New swallowing techniques are often helpful in people who have dysphagia that is caused by neurological issues such as dementia, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease.
You may be asked to regularly perform certain exercises that can help to strengthen your esophagus muscles, coordinate the muscles that you use to swallow, or restimulate the nerves that trigger the swallowing reflex.
In some severe cases, surgery might be required to relieve swallowing issues that have been caused by blockages or throat narrowing. Surgery is more likely to be an option for dysphagia that has been caused by throat cancer, vocal cord paralysis, bony outgrowths or GERD and achalasia.
There are several types of surgical treatments including laparoscopic heller myotomy, esophageal dilation, sent placement, or injecting onabotulinumtoxinA into the sphincter muscle to cause it to relax.
Dysphagia is a condition that can have many different underlying causes. Because of this, the treatment options are wide and varied. What kind of treatment you will be offered for dysphagia will depend on its cause and the severity of your symptoms.