Swallowing Disorders

Swallowing is a complex neuromuscular process involving the mouth, throat, larynx and esophagus. The three phases of swallowing are: oral, pharyngeal and esophageal. Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) becomes more common as we get older.

Swallowing Problem Signs and Symptoms:

  • Sensation of food getting stuck in throat or chest
  • Pain with swallowing (odynophagia)
  • Drooling, unable to swallow
  • Food/liquid regurgitating up into throat
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Coughing or choking when swallowing
  • Persistent hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss

Swallowing Disorder Causes:

  • Oropharyngeal problems
    • Neurological problems
  • Aging
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Post-polio syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
    • Stroke
    • Pharyngeal diverticula
    • Cervical spine boney spur
  • Esophagus problems
    • Spasm
    • Stricture
    • Mass
    • Foreign body
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Swallowing Disorder Evaluation:

  • Complete history and physical examination to obtain accurate diagnosis
  • Diagnostic testing if indicated:
    • Flexible fiberoptic examination of nose, throat and larynx (in office)
    • Barium swallow
    • Videofluoroscopic swallowing study (done by Swallowing Therapist and Radiologist)
    • Upper Endoscopy
  • Swallowing Therapy evaluation

Swallowing Disorder Treatment Options Include:

  • Diet modification
  • Swallowing techniques
  • Esophageal dilation
  • Surgery to remove mass or diverticula
  • Feeding tube in severe cases

When to see a Doctor:

  • Progressive swallowing problems
  • Unable to swallow
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Persistent pain
  • Persistent hoarseness
  • Neck mass

If you have Swallowing problems, please call (503) 257-3204 or request a visit online with us.


American Academy of Otolaryngology−Head and Neck Surgery. One Prince St., Alexandria, VA 22314-3357, 1-703-836-4444. 2014 AAO-HNS/AAO-HNSF
Flint, P. W., C. W. Cummings, et al. (2010). Cummings otolaryngology head & neck surgery. Philadelphia, PA, Mosby/Elsevier: 3 v. (xlii, 2963, cxciv p.).
Carrau RL, Murry T: Evaluation and management of adult dysphagia and aspiration. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2000, 8:489-496.
Schindler, J. S. and J. H. Kelly (2002). “Swallowing Disorders in the Elderly.” Laryngoscope 112(4): 589-602.