What Is Oropharyngeal Dysphagia?

Deneatra Harmon
Deneatra Harmon
People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing.
People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing.

Medical resources define dysphagia in general as difficulty with swallowing. Oropharyngeal dysphagia occurs when food has difficulty traveling from the mouth or throat to the upper esophagus. Other medical conditions and lifestyle factors often cause oropharyngeal dysphagia, and signs and symptoms tend to cause difficulty with eating as well as embarrassment for the patient. Treatment largely depends on the severity of the dysphagia.

Oropharyngeal dysphagia is not necessarily considered to be a disease, but refers to the medical condition that affects the throat and mouth. Patients with this swallowing disorder reportedly experience a sensation of food clinging to the chest or throat, rather than moving into the esophagus and then emptying into the stomach. According to experts, oropharyngeal dysphagia happens as a result of abnormalities in or near the esophagus, which may have developed from other medical conditions or diseases. This swallowing malfunction commonly occurs in patients older than age 50, but patients of all ages can develop the condition.

Causes of dysphagia derive from other medical conditions or lifestyle habits. Some medications, excessive smoking, and alcohol may wear on the esophagus and cause swallowing disorders over time. Tumors of the mouth or throat, narrowing of the esophagus, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) often cause oropharyngeal dysphagia, while cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and other muscular diseases may cause swallowing problems in the mouth and throat. Additional causes of dysphagia result from the patient having Parkinson’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, or other neurological disorders.

Besides problems with swallowing, symptoms of oropharyngeal dysphagia may pose discomfort as well as embarrassment. Some signs of the disorder include coughing while swallowing food or drinks, choking or difficulty breathing during meals, and vomiting liquid through the nose because of problems with passing food normally through to the digestive system. Drooling, constant clearing of the throat, and general discomfort can be problematic. A patient with this oral form of dysphagia may take longer than usual to chew food, or may repeatedly swallow by habit. Weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration may also result because of improperly-digested food.

Following testing and diagnosis, the doctor may treat oropharyngeal dysphagia through a variety of methods. Medication may be prescribed to control the problem. The patient may also be trained by a speech pathologist, who teaches new and safe ways of swallowing food. The doctor may also recommend rehabilitation such as muscle, coordination, and strength exercises to help the patient retrain on chewing and swallowing without choking or regurgitating. For severe cases of dysphagia, the doctor may administer surgery to correct oral functioning.

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    • People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing.
      People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing.