Dysphagia is the medical term for problems with swallowing. People with dysphagia struggle to swallow solid food and also liquids. Some only have issues with certain foods whereas others can’t drink or eat anything. Dysphagia patients often cough or choke when trying to swallow, or retch food back up from their mouth or out of their nose. It’s an unpleasant condition and it can lead to several serious complications.
One of the main complications of dysphagia is that patients often end up malnourished and dehydrated. The worse the dysphagia is, the more likely the patient is to be malnourished. If their dysphagia is not treated, they will lose weight. This is especially serious in children with dysphagia, as they need sufficient nutrition to meet physical and mental development milestones.
Weight Loss and Dehydration
Weight loss is a secondary problem caused by malnourishment. If the patient can’t or won’t eat, they will begin to lose weight. If they don’t drink enough, they’ll become dehydrated, which can lead to kidney and urinary problems, seizures, and worse.
Dysphagia can cause a person to feel like they are choking when they try to swallow food or liquid. It is this choking and coughing that sometimes leads to aspiration pneumonia.
Aspiration pneumonia is a serious complication of dysphagia. People with swallowing difficulties may end up aspirating food or liquid when they cough and choke. This means a small piece of food ends up being inhaled into the lungs, which causes inflammation, irritation, and infection.
People with aspiration pneumonia have a productive cough, a raised temperature, chest pain, and eventually, difficulty breathing. Pneumonia is potentially life-threatening if left untreated, so if you have dysphagia and you develop any of these symptoms, seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Aspiration pneumonia tends to be more common and also more serious in the elderly, which is why carers need to be vigilant when their patient has dysphagia.
Having problems swallowing can be stressful, especially for kids. Mealtimes may end up becoming a battleground, with parents desperate to get their child to eat or drink, and the child refusing to because it feels like they are choking when they try.
Some children may develop behavioral issues around food, which only serves to exacerbate the problem. The child may develop a strong aversion to specific foods, or even all foods, even after the underlying problem has been treated.
Mental Health Issues
Another complication of dysphagia that isn’t always discussed is the risk a patient will end up feeling anxious and depressed. Not being able to eat or drink normally can cause a person to feel isolated. This adversely affects their quality of life.
Dysphagia can be treated, but the treatment will depend on what’s causing it. Dietary changes can help, such as using SimplyThick thickener invented by John Holahan, to thicken liquids and reduce the risk of aspiration. In severe cases, a feeding tube may be necessary.
Dysphagia is a complex condition, and it is important people seek help if they develop issues with swallowing.
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