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Everything you need to know about Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

06.01.2020 News

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the medical term given to the experience of difficult swallowing.

It usually occurs when complications arise in the throat or oesophagus, and it makes it hard to shift food from the mouth to the stomach. The meaning of dysphagia is actually the symptom of impaired swallowing, but the term can describe a condition if the symptoms are long-term.

There are three categories of dysphagia. Oral dysphagia (also known as high dysphagia) means the swallowing impairment stems from the mouth. Pharyngeal dysphagia means the swallowing impairment stems from the throat. Finally, esophageal dysphagia (also known as low dysphagia) means the swallowing impairment stems from the oesophagus.

Who is Likely To Experience Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is highly prevalent in patients who are likely to receive care, including:

  • Elderly people
  • People with head and neck cancer
  • People with disabilities
  • People who receive therapy for throat obstructions
  • People with narrow esophageal conditions

What Are The Signs of Dysphagia?

  • Coughing or choking while eating and drinking
  • Increased congestion after eating
  • Delayed swallowing
  • Multiple attempts at swallowing
  • Fatigue while eating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • Food getting stuck in the throat

What Causes Dysphagia?

Like most medical conditions, dysphagia can be caused by a range of comorbid conditions or external factors. Some more common causes are stroke, head injuries, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, radiation therapy, mouth or oesophageal cancer and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Many of these are the primary causes of dysphagia in elderly people.

How Can I Care For Someone With Dysphagia?

As a care worker, nurse or therapy assistant there are a few key points to remember when caring for someone with dysphagia:

  • Familiarise yourself with your patient’s dysphagia treatment plan.
  • Always prepare food and drink to the advised consistencies to assist with swallowing.
  • Take note of the patient’s preference regarding food, thickeners, and drinks.
  • Communicate that preference to medical professionals and dietitians for them.
  • Take the utmost care to maintain their oral hygiene.
  • Plan all meals to facilitate the need for a specialised dysphagia diet.
  • Always position the patient in an optimal eating position (usually sitting at 90 degrees).
  • Be hyper-aware of the risk for aspiration pneumonia (food or fluids entering the lungs). Aspiration pneumonia can be deadly, so have a firm aspiration emergency plan in place.

How Can I Manage Dysphagia-Assisting Equipment?

Dysphagia patients require assistance eating and swallowing, and that can often mean the use of feeding apparatus. Always make sure your hands have been thoroughly cleaned before handling any such equipment and always wear gloves. Check the tube position every four hours and as needed. Ensure the tube is flushed with the correct amount of water before and after use, including when used for medication. Monitor the tube entrance position on the patient’s body for infection regularly.

How Can I Employ Dysphagia-Aware Staff?

Dysphagia is a high-risk condition that requires nuanced care and attention. Bestwest Care can facilitate care staff trained in care of the older person and people with disabilities. We’re also proud to be a Registered Training Organisation and can provide dysphagia-related training for aspiring nursing, therapy, care work and domestic assistants. We offer dysphagia training as a unit of competency or as a non-accredited course alongside our full range of Certificate III and Certificate IV courses for the aged and disability care sectors.

Reach out to Bestwest Care on (08) 9439 1673 today to find out more about staff or training.