Feeding and Swallowing

Being able to feed and swallow safely and comfortably is of utmost importance. Our Speech Language Pathologists can assess feeding and swallowing needs of our clients and create a therapy plan appropriate for them. Feeding therapy may focus on sensory needs or aversions of the client, encouraging the exploration of food. Swallowing therapy may focus on strengthening the muscles required in chewing and swallowing or learning how to position the head and neck to swallow safely.

Swallowing disorders, also called dysphagia (dis-FAY-juh), can occur at different stages in the swallowing process:

  • Oral phase: sucking, chewing, and moving food or liquid into the throat
  • Pharyngeal phase: starting the swallow, squeezing food down the throat, and closing off the airway to prevent food or liquid from entering the airway (aspiration) or to prevent choking
  • Esophageal phase: relaxing and tightening the openings at the top and bottom of the feeding tube in the throat (esophagus) and squeezing food through the esophagus into the stomach

NOTE: Children with feeding and swallowing problems have a wide variety of symptoms. Not all signs and symptoms are present in every child.

Swallowing and feeding disorders can occur in children and aduts. For children, feeding disorders include problems gathering food and getting ready to suck, chew, or swallow it; and include picky eating and avoidance of food textures and flavors. For adults, several diseases, conditions, or surgical interventions can result in swallowing problems.

Signs and symptoms of feeding and swallowing problems in very young children

  • Arching or stiffening of the body during feeding
  • Irritability or lack of alertness during feeding
  • Refusing food or liquid
  • Failure to accept different textures of food (e.g., only pureed foods or crunchy cereals)
  • Long feeding times (e.g., more than 30 minutes)
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Difficulty breast feeding
  • Coughing or gagging during meals
  • Excessive drooling or food/liquid coming out of the mouth or nose
  • Difficulty coordinating breathing with eating and drinking
  • Increased stuffiness during meals
  • Gurgly, hoarse, or breathy voice quality
  • Frequent spitting up or vomiting
  • Recurring pneumonia or respiratory infections
  • Less than normal weight gain or growth

​Adults may show these general signs of dysphagia

  • Coughing during or right after eating or drinking
  • Wet or gurgly sounding voice during or after eating or drinking
  • Extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow
  • Food or liquid leaking from the mouth or getting stuck in the mouth
  • Recurring pneumonia or chest congestion after eating
  • Weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat enough

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