What Is a Swallowing Disorder?

A swallowing disorder is characterized by difficulty or inability to safely and effectively transport the food or liquid bolus from the mouth, through the pharynx and into the esophagus.  A swallowing disorder can result in aspiration or food “going down the wrong pipe”.  Aspiration can place a child at a higher risk for respiratory/pulmonary issues.

How Common Are Swallowing Disorders and Who Is Affected?

Swallowing disorders are common in children with complex medical conditions such as prematurity, laryngomalacia, tracheomalacia,  tracheostomy and developmental delay.

How Are Swallowing Disorders Diagnosed?

The most common way to diagnosis a swallowing disorder is by having a Video Swallow Study done, which is a video X-ray during swallowing.  The child sits in a specialized seat similar to a car seat and is then given a variety of foods and liquids to assess the swallow.  This test assesses the ability to control liquids and foods and looks for aspiration.

Treatment Options

If a swallowing disorder is identified, therapists work to develop a plan to allow for safe and effective intake of foods and liquids.  This might include thickening liquids to a safe consistency or decreasing the flow of liquid from the bottle.  Swallowing disorders can be assessed and treated by a speech language pathologist or an occupational therapist.