Swallowing is a bodily function that comes so naturally to us that we rarely even realize that we’re doing it. That is, until pain in the throat area is experienced during swallowing and makes eating, drinking, and even talking more of a challenge.
Here is what difficulty swallowing could mean and how to address this symptom with a natural approach.
Types of Dysphagia
Dysphagia is the medical term for a swallowing disorder and can occur in three different phases: oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal. Oral dysphagia involves an issue with the mouth that causes swallowing problems, such as weakness of the tongue after a stroke. If the problem is in the throat, as with a neurological problem, oropharyngeal dysphagia occurs. Meanwhile, esophageal dysphagia involves an issue with the esophagus and often happens when something is compressing or blocking the esophagus.
Conditions that Cause Difficulty Swallowing
There are lots of different medical conditions that can make swallowing hard and even painful. Nervous system disorders, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, can be the cause. A muscle disorder or esophageal spasm could affect swallowing, as well as a swollen thyroid gland, esophageal cancer, or acid reflux disease.
An infection in this part of the body is a more common cause because when you have a sore throat, the pain and inflammation often make swallowing painful too. Other symptoms that commonly accompany difficulty swallowing include hoarseness, heartburn, coughing, gagging, drooling, and feeling like food is getting stuck in the throat.
Treatments for Difficulty Swallowing
Since a problem with swallowing can be very minor or very severe, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis of what is causing the issue. A medical professional may insert a small scope into the nose to see down inside the throat or even put a small camera into the nose to see what is happening when you swallow. Other possible diagnostic tests include an upper endoscopy performed by a gastroenterologist or drinking a barium concoction before a radiologist takes internal photos of your esophagus.
If the swallowing problem is not severe, dietary and lifestyle changes may be enough to solve the issue. Speech language pathologists can recommend ways to change how you eat, drink, sit, and clear your throat. Swallowing can be easier if you take smaller bites, add a thickening powder to drinks, and optimally tilt your head while eating.
If your difficulty swallowing is accompanied by weight loss, trouble breathing, or vomiting, it is time to see a medical professional. Older adults are at a greater risk of swallowing troubles because of wear and tear on the esophagus over the years. However, it is not normal to have persistent trouble with swallowing regardless of your age.
Alternative medicine therapies for dysphagia including mixing certain herbs with tea, such as licorice, marshmallow, and slippery elm. Herbs that promote relaxation, including valerian, may also be recommended to ease the muscles that are used to swallow. Some people have also had success with acupuncture as a natural remedy for dysphagia, especially if the symptom resulted after a stroke. But if your swallowing pain is due to the common cold, natural homeopathic remedies, hydration, and rest will likely ease the pain within a few days.