Swallowing is a complex process. Under normal circumstances, we swallow about 500 to 2000 times daily. Swallowing requires the concerted actions of about 50 pairs of muscles and 5 main cranial nerves (nerves in the skull).
People with “dysphagia” have difficulty swallowing and may even experience pain while swallowing. Some people may be completely unable to swallow or may have trouble safely swallowing liquids, foods, or saliva. When that happens, eating becomes challenging or even impossible. Often, dysphagia makes it difficult to take in enough calories and fluids to nourish the body and can lead to additional serious medical problems. Dysphagia can occur at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. The causes of swallowing problems vary, and treatment depends on the cause.
Patients who experience dysphagia may benefit from a form of treatment called swallowing therapy. During swallowing therapy sessions, the speech pathologist may use different methods involving the lips, jaw, and tongue to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. Special exercises for engaging the swallowing muscles and stimulating the nerves that trigger the swallow reflex may be used. Food may be used with the exercises for different textures, temperatures, and swallowing abilities. Patients may also be taught simple ways to place food in the mouth or position the body and head to help swallowing occur successfully. Sometimes, therapy may also include a change in diet. At Holy Cross Medical Center, we are fortunate to have a team of Medical Speech-Language Pathologists who diagnose and treat dysphagia.
Medical Speech-Language Pathologists collaborate with Radiologists and Radiology Technicians to perform Videofluoroscopic Swallowing Studies (VFSS). This test is also called a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) Study and is available right here in Taos.