Each year in the United States, one in 25 adults is diagnosed with a swallowing disorder, and slightly less than 1% of children between ages three and 17.
Swallowing is a fairly complex process that involves different areas and actions that all need to work smoothly. A swallowing disorder typically originates in one of three areas, or phases, which the team at Celebrations Speech Group discusses here.
Everything that goes into swallowing
We’ve referenced that swallowing might seem simple enough, but, in reality, it’s a fairly complex process, and we want to flesh this idea out.
The first step in swallowing is to move food or drink through your mouth to the back of your throat. Then, the food or drink needs to pass through to your esophagus while avoiding your airways. To accomplish this, you have a small flap called the epiglottis, which covers the entrance to your airway.
Finally, the substance is pushed down your esophagus, passes through a sphincter, and moves into your stomach for digestion.
If there’s a problem along this journey, we classify it as a swallowing disorder, medically known as dysphagia.
The three most problematic phases
Most swallowing disorders are attributable to problems in the three primary phases of swallowing, which include:
You have a problem in your mouth that interferes with your ability to push food or drink to the back of your throat. In most cases, the problem lies with your tongue.
This problem describes a condition in which you struggle to pass food into your esophagus. For example, the flap that covers your windpipe may not close properly, and you routinely “choke” on food or drink because it enters your airways.
Food doesn’t take an easy one-way trip down your esophagus and gets stuck or comes back up.
Behind swallowing disorders
There are many different reasons why you can develop a swallowing disorder.Perhaps there’s a problem with your tongue muscles or a structural abnormality in your mouth that makes it difficult to move food to the back of your throat.
Esophageal problems are also often behind swallowing disorders and include:
- A narrowed esophagus
- A malfunction in your esophageal sphincter
- Disordered muscle contractions in your esophagus
- Overly strong contractions in your esophagus
Another driver of swallowing disorders are problems with nerve function, which can stem from conditions like stroke or direct trauma to your nerves.
Whatever is causing your child’s or your swallowing disorder, our team can help. To learn more, contact one of our locations in Brentwood, Stockton, or Elk Grove, California, to set up a consultation.