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Swallowing problems

Dysphagia is difficulty or pain while swallowing liquids, foods or saliva. Sometimes it feels like something is stuck in the throat or chest. Sometimes it causes coughing or choking. In extreme cases, dysphagia can make it hard to eat, causing weight loss and other medical problems.

Dysphagia is especially common in elderly people but can occur at any age.

Causes of dysphagia may include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Colds
  • Dental issues
  • Infection or irritation that narrows the esophagus
  • Neck or chest injury
  • Nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy
  • Stroke or brain injury
  • Surgery in the throat, leading to weakened throat muscles
  • Tumor in the mouth, throat or esophagus

While dysphagia isn’t always serious or difficult to cure, it requires medical attention so food pieces don’t get stuck in the throat and block airflow or become lodged in the lungs and cause pneumonia.

The best treatment for dysphagia depends on what’s causing it. Doctors can evaluate swallowing disorders with a variety of tests. Sometimes they use an endoscope to view inside the mouth and throat, and sometimes they look at X-rays of the digestive tract.

Depending on test results, treatment may include:

  • Medication, such as muscle relaxants and antacids
  • Diet changes, including changes in the texture or size of food you swallow
  • Posture changes, such as tilting your head and neck when you eat
  • Exercises to strengthen facial muscles and improve coordination

Our Physicians

Rex ENT Specialists can help you with your dysphagia. Dr. John A. Garside, M.D., is trained in the newest techniques of treating your ear, nose and throat conditions. For personalized and timely care, visit us at our offices in Raleigh.


To find out more about dysphagia, see the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

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