If you're an adult who has suffered a stroke, had cancer surgery that has affected your throat, or have injured your mouth, then you might be at risk for suffering from a swallowing disorder, or dysphagia. You might not even know that you have it. General signs include coughing while you are eating, not being able to keep all of the food and liquid in your mouth, a great deal of chest congestion right after eating, and dehydration because eating is so strenuous that you can't do it fast enough in order to get all of the moisture that you need. All of these are serious problems that you need to address if they match your situation.
In order to get help, you can contact a speech pathologist. A speech pathologist will be able to help improve your swallowing in three different ways.
1. Help You Find a Position That Will Make It Easier to Swallow
One of the first steps that a speech pathologist will take is helping you find a position in which you can swallow comfortably. This might not be a position that you want to take if you are dining out with family and friends, but it is a good first step to helping make sure that you are getting enough to eat and drink, as well as reteaching your throat the motions of swallowing normally. Ideally, the speech pathologist will help you find this spot, often with the held tilted slightly back, and then you can gradually ease into a more natural head position for eating.
2. Give You a Regimen of Muscle Movements
Especially for adults who are suffering from a stroke or Alzheimer's, exercises to help relearn the muscle movements of swallowing can be very helpful. A speech pathologist will walk patients through the motions of swallowing, describing each one in detail, to see where the problem is. Then, he or she will assign exercises, such as tightening and loosening the jaw to build strength for chewing, that will focus on the problem area. This also helps patients who have found a location that is comfortable for swallowing to ease into another body position.
3. Determine Textures and Consistencies That Are Easier to Eat
Finally, a speech pathologist will be able to help you determine which foods are safe to eat by consistency and texture. He or she will be able to provide you with a list of softer, creamier foods that will ensure that you get the nutrients that you need while you are relearning to eat.
For more information, talk to a speech pathologist, such as one from Eastern Carolina Ear Nose & Throat-Head.
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