As adults age, they can develop what is known as dysphagia. This disorder can cause pain in the throat when trying to swallow and can be symptomatic of a stroke or brain injury. Other causes of dysphagia stem from esophagus damage, which causes food and liquid to have trouble moving to the stomach. In an older adult, it is imperative that dysphagia is treated and cared for with a special diet or surgery if necessary to avoid other health issues.
What Is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia or trouble swallowing can develop when the brain no longer can control the muscles in the esophagus that allow food and liquid to move into the stomach. This is typical in patients that have suffered a stroke, brain injury or spinal cord damage. In these instances, the brain can no longer process information to understand that food needs to move through the throat into the stomach.
Dysphagia is also common when damage to the esophagus has occurred from diseases such as cancer, inflammation or issues such as ulcers, diverticula, or tumors. This creates a blockage in the esophagus that prevents food and liquids from traveling to the stomach and can be painful when eating.
These issues can be further complicated by the lack of saliva production to lubricate and pass food properly into the body. Dry mouth is common when a patient is taking certain forms of medication that create this as a side effect.
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Understanding The Symptoms Of Dysphagia
When a patient experiences dysphagia, it is very difficult for them to swallow. They may experience pain in their throat during eating or bring food back up after eating. They may choke, gag or a cough during swallowing or feel a burning sensation that feels like food is stuck in their chest.
If a patient fails to get the nourishment, they need as a result of dysphagia they can lose weight rapidly. It is hard for them to keep food down or get it down at all, making it difficult to get the nutrients they need to remain healthy.
Patients can also become severely dehydrated from the lack of liquids in their diet. As food is coughed up or not swallowed properly, it can also get lodged in the lungs and create an infection for the patient. This can lead to pneumonia or serious respiratory issues that need to be treated.
A patient that has undergone treatment for dysphagia needs special care whether it be through a dysphagia diet or learning how to use the muscles to swallow again. Dysphagia diets consist of foods and liquids that are designed to be easier to swallow for the patient and can help ease the pain in the throat caused by problems with swallowing.
Introducing foods without distinct textures into the diet or cutting food into smaller pieces will make it easier to swallow. It is also recommended that your patient steers clear of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine as this can increase indigestion and cause more frequent heartburn that can discourage proper swallowing techniques.
Some patients may require surgery to correct restrictions in their esophagus. These surgeries can help ease throat pain and allow a patient to regain their ability to eat without complications. If symptoms of dysphagia worsen, a feeding tube may be necessary to provide a patient with proper nutrition and to avoid further illnesses.
Patients that are affected by brain disturbances that are causing the swallowing difficulties can be taught to use their eating muscles again. They will learn proper food placement and exercise their esophagus muscles so that they can eat without any painful symptoms of dysphagia.
Dysphagia should be treated by a professional such as an otolaryngologist, gastroenterologist, or neurologist. They can determine the best course of action for the swallowing issues and provide a treatment plan that can reduce symptoms and help with nourishment.
Helping a patient that is suffering from dysphagia requires an understanding of how it can create painful symptoms in the throat area. Caregivers should adhere to the prescription set by these doctors and assist their patient with the proper nutrition and diet needed to remain healthy and ward of infection or malnutrition.