Dysphagia: How I Manage my Swallowing Difficulty

Fatigue, muscle damage, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, a blockage in the throat area, or other factors can make choking on food, liquids, or saliva a very serious issue for some individuals.

Although dysphagia is a common complaint of the aged; illness, an accident, chronic acid reflux, or a chronic disability can bring on swallowing difficulties at any age. My swallowing difficulty began when I was twenty-six years old. I was diagnosed with a rare muscular illness classed under the term "Myositis". The disease comes with severe fatigue, muscle weakness, and muscle wasting. These are the key factors which cause many of my difficulties with swallowing and choking.

Swallowing is difficult for me so there are many foods which I no longer attempt to eat. don't eat oranges anymore because I am afraid that I will choke as I attempt to swallow their stringy pulp. I keep a glass beside my dinner plate and I take a sip after each bite to help to push the food down as I eat. Choking is one of my largest fears and I am not alone.

I never thought it could happen to me but it did. I became disabled. I choke on my food and on my saliva. When my illness flares or when I am more tired my difficulty with swallowing increases. I get tired simply chewing my food. It often feels as though my swallowing mechanism has simply slowed down and I do not have the strength to force the food to make the journey down that long corridor that they call my throat. I choke on my food and I swallow bits of food and liquid into my lungs. This can cause lung or bronchial pneumonia and infection.

I have learned to incorporate many strategies into my daily living so that I can reduce the risk of infection, permanent disability, and death. Adapting to my swallowing difficulties is one of these learning processes. I hope the tips that I use to help with my difficulty will also help you to overcome your issues with food and liquid.

Some foods are easier to swallow than others

*Tip your chin slightly downwards when swallowing. This position creates an easier pathway for food to follow and will reduce choking.

*Use a straw for drinking liquids. There are now many reusable straws available. Take a sip of water after each bite to help push the food down.

*Avoid stringy, dry, tough, or other difficult to chew foods. 

*Cut your food into very tiny pieces to make chewing easier.

*Puree fruits and vegetables to make them easier to swallow.

*Whey powder is an excellent source of protein when swallowing is difficult. Mixed into a drink it can be consumed easier than most other forms of protein. Whey protein is often recognized for being used by body builders but there are many elderly or people with chronic illness who also use whey to insure they receive adequate protein.

*Mash or blend your fruits, vegetables, and meat. Stewing meat in very small pieces will make it more tender and easier to swallow. Fish is a softer meat alternative.

*Eat small meals rather than large meals. ie: 5 small meals rather than 3 large ones.

*Add sauces and oils to your food to make it easier to swallow.

*Crush or cut pills to make swallowing them easier. Replace regular vitamins and supplements with chewable or gummy vitamins.

* It is important to get the maximum nutritional benefit from the foods you eat. Choose your foods wisely.

Puree diet: Eating around your swallowing difficulty.

Fatigue can increase the swallowing difficulty. For seniors, and those who suffer from health issues, it is very important to get plenty of rest. Being fatigued can make everyday tasks more difficult to manage and you can tire out much more quickly than you would under normal circumstances.

The simple act of chewing food can be tiring and as you place additional stress on your fatigued muscles you become more likely to experience swallowing difficulty. It is very important to reduce the fatigue factor as much as you are able to.

The less time that you spend chewing the foods you eat then the less fatigued you will become during mealtime. Eat 5 small meals or snack throughout the day rather than consume the standard 3 large meals. Cut your food into tiny bite size pieces as this will reduce the amount of chewing you will have to do. Avoid chewy or tough foods. Eat cooked or pureed vegetables and fruits rather than raw ones. Some meats such as fish are softer and easier to chew.

Choking is not the only serious issue which can occur for those who suffer from Dysphagia. Swallowing food and liquid into the lungs can cause the development of serious lung infections or pneumonia. Dehydration and malnutrition are other problems faced by those who suffer from a difficulty swallowing food or liquid. If you suspect that you suffer from swallowing difficulties please consult your local physician.

It is such a relief when the flare ends. After a very rough period of weakened muscles within my throat I am back to where I can eat almost normal again. I am so very relieved. I have had swallowing issues before but this last bout was the worst that I have experienced. The first week of March 2013 my throat muscles became very inflamed and weakened. My doctor thought that I perhaps had experienced a blocked saliva gland. As I suffer from a chronic autoimmune illness my disease flared, inflammation set into my throat, and the muscles in that area weakened.

For the first four days I had difficulty to even take tiny sips of water through a straw without choking. On the evening of the forth day I was starving and made myself a cup of chicken soup broth. It took about 2 hours for me to eat approximately a half cup of this mixture.

On a Myositis support group website I was given some wonderful advice for those with muscular illness. One of the fellows who had recovered from a severe swallowing flare said. "Think of each eating session as exercise for your throat. Do not over stress the muscle but try to eat a little at a time to keep the muscle active just as you would with your other muscles."

My throat slowly improved and on Christmas day I was able to eat a small plate of Christmas dinner. Around the first week of January 2014 I could honestly say that I had recovered from the flare and was once again feeling safe. Small diced pieces of cooked celery are still off the list of foods that I can consume and I wouldn't dream of eating stringy foods such as oranges, but I can eat most foods once again.

Foods that I had found relatively easy to consume were: Scrambled eggs, yogurt, popcorn, raw broccoli (I have no idea why it went down okay), juices, and of course protein based smoothies which I dined on frequently during this illness flare. Be strong. Be Positive. Be well.

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