Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia indicates that it takes more effort or time to propel food from your mouth to the stomach. Occasional difficulty in swallowing is rarely a cause for concern and may be related to eating too fast or not chewing properly. However, persistent dysphagia may be a concern and should be evaluated by our specialists at Affiliated Ear, Nose and Throat Physicians. Dysphagia can be related to problems affecting the esophagus or oropharynx.

Esophageal dysphagia

The following is a list of some of the more common reasons to have dysphagia.

  • Achalasia – where the muscles in the lower esophagus do not allow food to pass
  • GERD – damage to the esophageal tissues from acid reflux causes spasm, scarring and ultimately narrowing of the lower esophagus
  • Diffuse spasm – causes poorly coordinated contraction of the esophagus
  • Esophageal tumors – when large, they tend to block the passage of food

Oropharyngeal dysphagia

Conditions that weaken throat muscles make it difficult to transport food from the mouth to the esophagus. Causes of this condition include:

  • Neurological disorders or damage – diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinsonism or muscular dystrophy as well as stroke or brain injury can cause this form of dysphagia
  • Cancer – tumors themselves, as well as treatment including radiation therapy can cause problems with swallowing

Risk factors and Complications

  • Aging and neurological system disorders exacerbate swallowing problems
  • Malnutrition, aspiration pneumonia and choking – all of these are potential complications of persistent or progressive dysphagia