Many people have trouble swallowing at some time, perhaps because of a sore throat or tonsillitis or because of extreme anxiety. Feeling as though you have a lump in your throat is common when we are stressed or very nervous.
For some people, however, swallowing difficulties can create real distress as they prevent eating and drinking in social situations. This is known as dysphagia and although patients may be reluctant to mention it to their doctor, there is no need to suffer unnecessarily.
Who experiences swallowing difficulties?
Dysphagia becomes more common with age and many elderly people experience swallowing difficulties, particularly if they have to take several tablets a day.
Swallowing problems are also more common if you:
- are recovering after a stroke: around 8 out of 10 patients who have had a stroke will develop dysphagia
- have long-standing diabetes: the peripheral nerve damage that occurs in diabetes can interfere with the process of swallowing
- have had throat surgery, have been intubated for a long period (such as in intensive care) or who have had radiotherapy to the throat, head or neck
- have Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis
- have had salivary gland problems, or who have had salivary glands removed and who cannot produce enough saliva
- have a dry mouth due to some other cause, such as those who experience a lack of saliva as an adverse effect of medication
- have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which acid from the stomach enters the oesophagus and damages some of the nerves that are important for swallowing
At The London Clinic, we have ear, nose and throat specialists with expertise in diagnosing and treating various types of swallowing disorders.