Swallowing disorders

Let’s talk about swallowing disorders

Swallowing disorders can affect a child's development.

Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia (dis-fay-juh), affect a person’s ability to safely swallow drinks, food and medication.

Like breathing, swallowing is essential to everyday life - we swallow approximately 700 times a day!

People who have trouble swallowing are at risk of choking, poor nutrition and dehydration.  Babies and children with difficulty feeding may not take in enough nutrients to support growth and brain development.

Left untreated, swallowing disorders can have a devastating effect on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

Speech pathologists are the professionals who assess and treat people with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) across the lifespan.



How to know if you may have a swallowing disorder?

  • Do you cough while eating or drinking?
  • Do you have trouble swallowing tablets?
  • Do you avoid social gatherings where food is offered?
  • Is it challenging to feed yourself?
  • Is it difficult to swallow your own saliva?


How can speech pathologists help?

Speech and language therapists help to treat people with dysphagia by:

  • Completing detailed and accurate assessments
  • Providing an accurate diagnosis of dysphagia, which may assist with the differential medical diagnosis
  • Ensuring safety (reducing or preventing aspiration) with regards to swallowing function
  • Balancing risk factors with quality of life, taking into account the individual’s preferences and beliefs
  • Working with other health professionals, particularly dietitians, to optimise nutrition and hydration
  • Stimulating improved swallowing with oral motor/sensory exercises, swallow techniques and positioning.


How does it affect children?

A difficult diagnosis to swallow

What issues does dysphagia lead to in infants, children and young people?

  • Issues with the development of feeding skills
  • Behavioural issues associated with eating, drinking and mealtimes
  • Can cause chest infections, pneumonia, choking, dehydration, weight-loss and malnutrition.


How can speech pathologists help?

  • They can assess and identify possible causes of eating and drinking difficulties
  • They can provide mealtime assessments
  • They can refer children for videofluroscopy
  • They can recommend changes to feeding equipment, changes to the texture of food or drink, and changes to feeding positions.


How many children and young people are affected by dysphagia?

  • Between 25-45% of a typically developing paediatric population
  • Between 31-99% of children with cerebral palsy
  • Between 26-40% of infants born prematurely


Dysphagia: What can be done to help?

  • Exercises can sometimes help to improve the muscles used to swallow
  • Thickening fluids can sometimes make drinking safer
  • Strategies/postures can sometimes be used to improve the safety of the swallow
  • Altering the texture of the diet can sometimes make eating safer


For more information call Connect Health & Community on 03) 9575 5333 to book an appointment with a speech pathologist.

Or visit speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/swallowing