We've all experienced it at one time or another--difficulty swallowing. Food just doesn't go down easily. It may hurt, may feel like food is stuck in the back of your throat, you might drool, your voice may be hoarse or you may cough or gag when swallowing. But when is it a serious condition?
If difficulty persists, then the condition requires attention. It takes about 50 pairs of muscles and nerves to accomplish the simple act of swallowing, and a number of conditions can interfere with this process. There are two general categories:
- Esophageal--refers to the sensation of food sticking or getting hung up in the base of your throat or your chest. Causes include narrowing of the esophagus, tumors, foreign bodies, regurgitation, acid reflux or scleroderma.
- Oropharyngeal--nerve or muscle problems that cause weakened throat function and promote choking, gagging or coughing when swallowing, or the sensation of foods or liquids going down your windpipe or up your nose. Causes include neurological problems, or cancer.
Treatment is tailored to the particular cause and medications are useful in reducing stomach acid. There are some simple lifestyle changes to improve swallowing function--eating smaller, more frequent meals, avoiding sticky foods, cutting food into smaller pieces and eating at a slower pace. Limiting alcohol, tobacco and caffeine reduces heartburn. The most important thing to remember is that if you develop a regular problem with swallowing, medical examination is necessary.
Robert G. Tupac, DDS, FACP, Inc., Diplomate, American Board of Prosthodontics (661) 325-1275 | www.drtupac.com 5060 California Ave., #170, Bakersfield, CA 93309