What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is the medical term used for eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties experienced by children and adults. It includes problems with sucking, chewing and swallowing foods and/or liquids.
Who is at risk in the paediatric population?
Children with the below mentioned diagnoses may experience difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing:
• Pre-term infants;
• Developmental delay;
• Cerebral Palsy and other neurological conditions, such as traumatic brain injury, meningitis and muscular dystrophy;
• Autism Spectrum Disorders;
• Syndromes such as Down Syndrome, CHARGE Syndrome and Worster Drought Syndrome.
What difficulties does it lead to in children?
• Difficulties with the development of eating and drinking skills;
• Behavioural issues associated with mealtimes;
• Health complications such as recurrent chest infections, pneumonia, weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, and risk to life.
Signs and Symptoms
Look out for these signs and symptoms at mealtimes and in the health of your child. Discuss anything you observe with a health professional.
• Difficulties chewing or controlling food in the mouth;
• Coughing during and after meals;
• Changes in voice; for example, the voice sounds ‘wet’ after eating or drinking;
• Food or liquid coming down the nose;
• Recurrent chest infections;
• Weight loss or problems gaining weight;
• Refusing food and pushing it away;
• Crying at mealtimes;
• Changes in breathing;
• Tiredness partway through mealtimes.
How can Speech and Language Therapists help?
Specially trained Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) play a unique role in the holistic management of dysphagia. They can:
• assess and identify possible causes of eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties;
• provide an accurate diagnosis of dysphagia;
• ensure safety with regards to swallowing function;
• balance risk factors with Quality of Life;
• work with other health professionals, such as Dietitians to optimise nutrition, Physiotherapists to provide best positioning and seating at mealtimes, and Occupational Therapists to maximise an individual’s independence when eating and drinking;
• provide specific therapy input to improve eating, drinking and swallowing.
Specific interventions may address:
• readiness for oral feeding;
• positioning and seating;
• normalising orofacial sensation;
• development of oral control;
• texture modification of food and liquids;
• encouraging communication and independence at mealtimes;
• acceptance a greater range of tastes and textures.
Please contact a member of our Speech and Language Therapy team should you require any further information.