- Disabilities & the Disabled
Swallowing Difficulty: Working Around the Health Issues
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.
Is whey protein an option to satisfy your protein needs?
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.
Tips to make swallowing food easier:
- Tip your chin downward when swallowing. This position creates the most direct pathway for food to follow and will reduce choking.
- Use a straw for drinking liquids.
- Take a sip of water after each bite to help push the food down.
- Avoid stringy, dry, tough, or other difficult to chew foods.
- Cut your food into very tiny pieces to make chewing easier.
- Thoroughly cook fruits and vegetables rather than eating them raw.
- Juice or puree fruits, vegetables, and other food to make them easier to swallow.
- Mash or blend your fruits, vegetables, and meat.
- 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.
- Eat small meals rather than large meals. ie: 5 small meals rather than 3 large ones.
- Add sauces and oils to your food to make it easier to swallow.
- Crush or cut pills to make swallowing them easier.
- 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?
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