Swallowing

Swallowing food is a complex process in which brain, nerves, muscles, muscle valves and esophagus are involved. The food we swallow starts its journey form mouth and ends it by reaching the stomach. The process of swallowing can be considered as an act consisting of three phases. The food we eat contained by the mouth cavity between its lips and tongue is the first phase of the swallowing process.

The second phase is the earlier portion of the swallowing activity during which the food passed the throat. Second phase takes less than half a minute for its completion. This phase is characterized by a number of events that take place during this phase. It can be summarized as below. The brain decides to swallow the food in the oral cavity. The food is thrust into the throat. Epiglottis closes the trachea and prevents the food from entering the trachea. Food enters the food pipe.

When the food enters the esophagus it is the starting point of the third phase of swallowing process. Esophagus starts contacting and a valve at the bottom of the esophagus opens thereby allowing the food to enter the stomach. It may take six to eight seconds for the completion of the third phase. Swallowing problems may be caused by a lot of diseases; some of them are detailed below.

1) Brain disease caused by Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis etc.

2) Dysfunction of oral or pharynx muscles caused by stroke.

3) A disease named achalasia which is caused by the loss of relaxation capacity of the sphincter muscle.

Symptoms of swallowing problem

1) Chocking on food.

2) Pain when swallowing food.

3) Recurring pneumonia

4) Slow movement of food through food pipe.

Diagnostic procedures

1) Cineradiography: In this procedure the patient is asked to drink a barium compound before taking the radiograph. X-ray videos are taken as the liquid moves through the esophagus.

2) Upper endoscopy: In this procedure and endoscope which is a flexible instrument with a video camera on one end of it is inserted to the esophagus through the mouth and the inside of the esophagus is examined by the surgeon. The other end of the endoscope is connected to a monitor which is placed before the surgeon.

3) Manometry: This is a test used to measure the particulars esophagus contractions like its strength, timings and valve relaxation.

4) Impedence and pH test: This test is helpful in finding out the effect of acid reflux in the swallowing problem.

Treatment options

A swallowing problem may solve on it’s within a few days. If it is not solved even after a few days, then the following techniques will help to manage the swallowing problems.

1) Sit upright for 15 to 20 minutes and tilt your head in the forward direction.

2) While you eat stay focused and don’t get distracted and do not talk when you are eating.

3) Cut food into small pieces, chew well and eat slowly. Swallow only small quantity of food each time.

4) If food is stuck while swallowing, cough gently and swallow again before taking the next breath. Concentrate on swallowing.

5) Drink more liquids and practice habits of eating lemon rice and drinking lemon juice which are good for the formation of more saliva.

6) Avoid food items that are difficult to chew.

7) Medicines have to be crushed very well before consuming them. Ask your doctor to prescribe medications in liquid form or which need not be crushed.

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