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Swallowing Difficulty: Working Around the Health Issues

Updated on July 11, 2015
Photos are my own or are courtesy of http://karenswhimsy.com. Article copyright 07/30/2012.
Photos are my own or are courtesy of http://karenswhimsy.com. Article copyright 07/30/2012.

Swallowing is difficult for me.

I don't eat oranges anymore because I am afraid that I will choke as I attempt to swallow their stringy pulp. Swallowing is difficult for me so there are many foods which I no longer attempt to eat.

I keep a glass beside my dinner plate and I take a sip after each bite to help to push the food down as I eat. Choking is one of my largest fears and I am not alone.


Swallowing difficulty can happen to anyone.

Fatigue, muscle damage, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, a blockage in the throat area, or other factors can make choking on food, liquids, or saliva a very serious issue for some individuals.

Although swallowing difficulties are a common complaint of the aged; illness, an accident, chronic acid reflux, or chronic disability can bring on swallowing difficulties (dysphagia) at any age.

My swallowing difficulty began when I was twenty-six years old. I was diagnosed with a very rare muscular illness classed under the term "Myositis". The disease comes with severe fatigue, muscle weakness, and muscle wasting. These are the key factors which cause many of my difficulties with swallowing and choking.

There are so very many people who are just like me. Illness, accident, disability, and age, are all reasons why the simple act of swallowing can be an issue.

Dysphagia = Difficulty eating

I never thought it could happen to me.

I never thought it could happen to me but it did. I became disabled. I choke on my food. I choke on my saliva.

When my illness flares, or when I am more tired, then my difficulty with swallowing increases. I get very tired chewing my food.

Often it feels as though my swallowing mechanism has simply slowed down and I do not have the strength to force the food to make the journey down that long corridor that they call my throat. I choke on my food and I swallow bits of food and liquid into my lungs. This can cause lung or bronchial pneumonia and infection.

I have learned to incorporate many strategies into my daily living so that I can reduce the risk of infection, permanent disability, and death. Adapting to my swallowing difficulties is one of these learning processes. I hope the tips that I use to help with my swallowing difficulty will also help you to overcome your difficulty with food and liquid.

Some foods are easier to swallow than others.

Fruit smoothie ingredients.
Fruit smoothie ingredients.

Is whey protein an option to satisfy your protein needs?

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder, Double Rich Chocolate, 5 Pound
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder, Double Rich Chocolate, 5 Pound

Whey powder is an excellent source of protein when swallowing is difficult. Mixed into a drink it can be consumed easier than most other forms of protein. Whey protein is often recognized for being used by body builders but there are many elderly or people with chronic illness who also use whey to insure they receive adequate protein.

 

It is important to get the maximum benefit from the foods you eat.

Fruit smoothie ready to be mixed.
Fruit smoothie ready to be mixed.

Tips to make swallowing food easier:

  1. Tip your chin downward when swallowing. This position creates the most direct pathway for food to follow and will reduce choking.
  2. Use a straw for drinking liquids.
  3. Take a sip of water after each bite to help push the food down.
  4. Avoid stringy, dry, tough, or other difficult to chew foods.
  5. Cut your food into very tiny pieces to make chewing easier.
  6. Thoroughly cook fruits and vegetables rather than eating them raw.
  7. Juice or puree fruits, vegetables, and other food to make them easier to swallow.
  8. Mash or blend your fruits, vegetables, and meat.
  9. Stewing meat in very small pieces will make it more tender and easier to swallow. Fish is a softer meat alternative. Whey protein is easily taken as a drink.
  10. Eat small meals rather than large meals. ie: 5 small meals rather than 3 large ones.
  11. Add sauces and oils to your food to make it easier to swallow.
  12. Crush or cut pills to make swallowing them easier.
  13. Replace regular vitamins and supplements with chewable or gummy vitamins.

Puree diet: Eating around your swallowing difficulty.

Fatigue can increase the swallowing difficulty.

For seniors, and those who suffer from health issues, it is very important to get plenty of rest. Being fatigued can make everyday tasks more difficult to manage and you can tire out much more quickly than you would under normal circumstances.

The simple act of chewing food can be tiring, and as you place additional stress on your fatigued muscles, you become more likely to experience swallowing difficulty. It is very important to reduce the fatigue factor as much as you are able to.

The less time that you spend chewing the foods you eat then the less fatigued you will become during mealtime. Eat 5 small meals throughout the day rather than the standard 3 large meals.

Cut your food into very tiny bite size pieces as this will reduce the amount of chewing that you will have to do. Avoid chewy or tough foods. Eat cooked or pureed vegetables and fruits rather than raw ones. Some meats such as fish are much softer and easier to chew.

Do you suffer from dysphagia?

Do you suffer from dysphagia?

See results

MS Swallowing difficulty and adaption.

Choking is not the only serious issue which can occur for those who suffer from Dysphagia.

Swallowing food and liquid into the lungs can cause the development of serious lung infections or pneumonia. Dehydration and malnutrition are other problems faced by those who suffer from a difficulty swallowing food or liquid.

Dysphagia! If you suspect that you suffer from swallowing difficulties please consult your local physician.

Adjusting to swallowing difficulty with ALS

It is such a relief when the flare ends.

After a very rough period of weakened muscles within my throat I am back to where I can eat almost normal again. I am so very relieved. I have had swallowing issues before but this is the worst that I have experienced.

The first week of March 2013 my throat muscles became very inflamed and weakened. My doctor thought that I perhaps had experienced a blocked saliva gland.

As I suffer from a chronic autoimmune system illness my disease flared, inflammation set into my throat, and the muscles in that area weakened.

For the first four days I had difficulty to even take tiny sips of water through a straw without choking. On the evening of the forth day I was starving and made myself a cup of chicken soup broth. It took about 2 hours for me to eat approximately a half cup of this mixture.

On a Myositis support group website I was given some wonderful advice for those with muscular illness. "Think of each eating session as exercise for your throat. Do not over stress the muscle but try to eat a little to keep the muscle active just as you would with your other muscles."

My throat slowly improved and on Christmas day I was able to eat a small plate of Christmas dinner. Around the first week of January 2014 I could honestly say that I have recovered from this flare and am once again safe. Small diced pieces of cooked celery are still off my list of foods that I can consume, and I wouldn't dream of eating stringy foods such as oranges or mozza cheese, but I can eat most foods once again.

Foods that I had found relatively easy to consume were: Scrambled eggs, yogurt, popcorn, raw broccoli (no idea why), juices, and of course whey powder smoothies which I dined on frequently during this illness flare.

Wishing every person who visits this webpage optimum health and a wealth of blessings. Be strong. Be well.

Sources for this article

My own experiences with swallowing issues and the Mayoclinic: Difficulty Swallowing

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/difficulty-swallo...

Do you or someone you love suffer from dysphagia?

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    • JoleneBelmain profile image

      JoleneBelmain 4 years ago

      Yes, my dear mother suffers from dysphagia... I sure wish she didn't have to anymore.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 4 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      My partner frequently chokes on his food even though he chews a lot. He has difficulty getting the food to go into his stomach so sometimes he coughs it up. He has difficulty eating most things but meat is the worst followed by anything dry or dense. He's very embarrassed by it, especially when it happens in restaurants. I think it also makes him belch a lot due to all the failed swallowing attempts. I think your list of tips to help dysphagia would help him so I'm going to leave this lens open on his computer and mention it to him.

      I think you've provided a very helpful resource for people suffering from dysphagia.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @Kylyssa: Choking on food or liquid can be very frightening and frustrating. I find that fish is one of the easiest meats to consume and I rarely choke on it. I generally have one of my daily meals as a drink made from whey protein powder, fruit juice, yogurt, and ice cream. It is very filling and yummy. I hope some of these tips help your husband. Sipping water after each bite of food really does help a lot with swallowing difficulty.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @writerkath: We have to eat to survive so difficulty with swallowing can be very frustrating. Although it is more common for the elderly to be affected by swallowing difficulty, anyone can suffer from dysphagia, young or old alike.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @JoleneBelmain: Me too. I hate when the swallowing difficulty is very bad.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 4 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Wow, this IS really scary. I can't say I know -- or know that I know -- anyone with dysphagia, but I certainly now understand it much better (I'd heard a little something about it once) if I do meet someone who does. What a great job you've done with explaining this. Thank you for sharing.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      This is good information to keep in mind in case a loved one starts to develop symptoms. It must be so difficult when swallowing is affected like this. Great lens.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @LiteraryMind: As we age and there is muscle damage or weakness swallowing often becomes more difficult so many seniors tend to have problems with this. Fatigue and disease activity really have a large affect on my ability to swallow but I am fortunate in that when I am in a good phase of my illness that I am almost normal.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @Ramkitten2000: Lol...I hate the swallowing difficulties. I really do not think that you ever get used to the feeling of food stopping halfway down your throat. It is one of the scary symptoms of muscle weakness.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I've heard of people having swallowing disorders but really didn't know anything about it or the word "dysphagia". You have explained it very well and sadly, out of your own experience. I didn't know that chewing can actually be fatiguing and know it must be very scary to have anything but air go into your lungs. This is excellent information that you are sharing and you have made if very understandable for all of us.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I did shout this on FB a couple hours ago and forgot to mention it. I mostly can eat anything but after reading this realize that's what's going on with me as part of a brain malformation, when neck muscles tighten up, I do gag on food. I guess I was in a little bit of denial when I was here before, so this information is valuable for me too.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @anonymous: It is natural to adapt around the disability so until it sort of slaps you right in the face you don't notice that you have been accommodating the disability to work around it. I discovered that when I got sick again after my 5 year remission that I had been heading there for awhile. You just adapt until you can no longer ignore what is happening.

    • profile image

      DMVAgent 4 years ago

      This is so informative lens, i believe this will rate higher. I got a note about this tips. :) Thanks!

    • KellyMediaBest LM profile image

      KellyMediaBest LM 4 years ago

      Ever since I choked on a piece of steak when I was younger, this has been one of my biggest fears! I don't have problems swallowing naturally, but I do tend to eat quickly, which causes food to get stuck sometimes. It is the scariest feeling ever, and my mom being a nurse and over-preparing me for every emergency situation didn't help the paranoid feeling!

    • profile image

      miaponzo 4 years ago

      Darling.. you need to try reflexology... you just work around the base and lower joint of the two thumbs, and down the side of your thumb, on both the bony parts and the squishy parts... I think you will be amazed at how much relief you will get.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @miaponzo: I have looked into reflexology before and there definitely are merits to it's principles. Not sure if it works on swallowing difficulties but I will definitely try it. I think I have to read more of your articles.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      @KellyMediaBest LM: I know how scary the feeling of choking on your food is and I so thank you for sharing this. My issue is because my muscles have slowed so the food moves so slowly down my throat that I choke. It is very frightening.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 4 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you for sharing this is important information! Stay strong and be well!!

    • HomeArtist1 profile image

      Wendy Hughes 4 years ago from Charlotte

      I have so much trouble eating and swallowing I'm exhausted after 10 minutes. I quit eating early and now I'm grossly underweight. I do have a great tip to prevent choking: If you feel food near your airway, don't panic. STOP. Hold your head slightly downward an slowly take a LITTLE air in through your NOSE; just enough for you to cough and expel the food or pill. It works for me and helps me with my fear of choking. Also, I find if I pay attention to my food, I'm less incline to choke.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have experienced difficulty in swallowing, I have found that if I don't speak while eating it helps. I also chew my food properly and pay attention to eating. But in case of extreme difficulty, I would suggest to use more of liquid food in meals.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      @anonymous: I find that I really do have to concentrate on my eating as well whereas before it was such a natural process. I have been battling since March an especially difficult period. My swallowing difficulty is due a rare inflammatory illness. To combat the weakness I eat my larger meal in the morning and then have the whey powder smoothie for supper. It has helped me to rest my throat muscles more when they are weaker and I am having quite a bit of improvement in my symptoms. I have my fingers crossed this flare will let up soon.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      @HomeArtist1: I know that yours is also an inflammatory issue. Just wanted to let you know that I started using Voltaren Emugel and that it is an amazing anti-inflammatory. It really helps to ease the inflammation in my throat and jaw and is sold over the counter.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Excellent lens that provides so much information. It has to be such a frightening feeling when it happens! I'm passing this on to a couple of friends. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      One of my twin boys who is now 25 has had a swallowing problem since he was a young teen. It is a bit different than yours though. What he has is called Achalasia. What you have sounds so much worse than what my son has.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      @Susan Zutautas: The good thing about my swallowing issues is that they come and go in severity depending on the current illness flare so I count myself as very lucky. This latest flare though did scare the heck out of me as I figured that might be it for me. Thankfully I am back whew. I have lost some of my natural ability to swallow over the years and there is a bit of permanent damage in other areas of my body as well but otherwise I am doing very well considering how long I have been ill.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image
      Author

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      @Merrci: Yes it is very frightening.

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Lady Lorelei: I can imagine how scary that must have been for you. I hope that you never have to experience another flare up again.

    • aminebombom profile image

      Amine 3 years ago from Doha, Qatar

      well whey protein is definitely good if you look to gain some weight, the problem i faced when i tooked a bottle of whey protein i gained about 2.5 kilograms per a month, and after awhile that i don't take it i lose the weight, so the better thing is your mom or wifes cooks for you healthy food and you consume it, well done my friend nice topic

    • Sarah Kessler profile image

      Sarah Kessler 2 years ago from Seattle

      Thank you for this article! My mother and I both struggle with this, but it has really been a big problem for her. I have a thyroid disorder called Hashimoto's that causes my thyroid to get inflamed when I go through a flare, which makes swallowing hard. It's like my throat is telling my brain it's off-limits! My mother actually did have a salivary gland problem, and when they cleared it, the condition got better but still remains due to a muscular disorder.

      Great article, and I wish you the best health and luck. :)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 21 months ago from Central Florida

      My mother had a great deal of problems with this and was choking at almost every meal. The doctor finally settled on beta blockers for her problem and it helped immensely.

      Her sister and one daughter seem to have problems with this too, so I'm worried that it might be a problem for me down the road. Thanks for all your advice here. I'll pass it on to them.

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