March 17, 2021

Today is Swallowing Awareness Day which raises awareness about swallowing disorders, also known as ‘dysphagia’.

Swallowing is a natural reflex and an essential part of our everyday life.  We swallow between 500-700 times a day, around three times an hour during sleep, once per minute while awake, and even more during meals.

Around one million Australians have difficulty swallowing liquids, food, or medication safely.

To help shine a light on swallowing difficulties, we spoke with  Speech Pathologist and Team Leader, Kate,  about some of the signs of swallowing difficulties and how a Speech Pathologist can help make mealtimes safer and more enjoyable.

What are swallowing difficulties?

Swallowing difficulities, or dysphagia, can occur at any stage of life and impact a person’s safety and wellbeing, and quality of life.  Some people may have problems chewing and swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others are unable to swallow at all.

Supporting people who have swallowing difficulties can increase their safety and independence during mealtimes, and improve their enjoyment and social inclusion.

What are some of the signs of swallowing difficulties?

Swallowing difficulties will look different for each person, but some of the common signs include:

  • difficulty chewing food or pain when swallowing
  • coughing up food or choking
  • feeling like food is stuck in the throat or chest
  • constant throat clearing
  • food is left in the mouth after swallowing
  • drooling or excessive saliva
  • a ‘gurgling’ sound when eating or drinking
  • unable to finish meals
  • unexpected weight loss
  • dehydration
  • heartburn
  • inhaling food (food enters the lungs)

How an Everyday Independence Speech Pathologist can help

Everyday Independence speech pathologists can help with difficulties a person is having when eating or drinking and provide recommendations to help them to eat or drink safely and enjoy meals, and maintain their independence.

This may include:

  • exercises to learn new ways to swallow
  • recommending changes to the consistency of food and liquids
  • suggesting mealtime aids such as low flow cups, straws with no-return valves, hands-free drinking systems, and other equipment
  • eliminating distractions such as the TV, or having a conversation when eating or drinking
  • maintaining a good posture, sitting up straight during meals and after

Speech Pathologists work with a person’s support network such as their family, carers, health professionals, and other allied health providers to help address the person’s swallowing difficulties.

If you or a loved one needs support with mealtime management, call us on 1300 179 131 to discuss your needs.