Swallowing Problems, Dysphagia

This term refers to eating, drinking and swallowing problems. Babies, pre-school children, school aged children and teenagers can have problems with eating and drinking.

There are many reasons why eating and drinking difficulties can occur, these include –

  • Prematurity
  • Cleft lip and/or palate
  • Head and neck abnormalities or muscle weakness
  • Neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and meningitis
  • Medical issues such as medication
  • Sensory issues

If eating and drinking problems are not dealt with appropriately then a child may be at risk of –

  • Dehydration
  • Food or liquid entering the airway
  • Repeated respiratory infections

The signs or symptoms of a potential eating and drinking problem include –

  • In babies, stiffening of the body during feeding and/or long feeding times
  • Difficulty chewing, coughing or gagging
  • Difficulty co-ordinating breathing with eating and drinking
  • Excessive drooling
  • Feeling of food being stuck in the throat

Speech and Language Therapists can help with these difficulties by –

  • Assessing eating and drinking during meal times – looking at eating and drinking patterns with different food and fluid consistencies
  • Giving advice on exercises for improving the muscles of the mouth, tongue, lips
  • Advising on sucking/swallowing and breathing patterns in babies
  • Advising on food amounts and consistencies
  • Advising on any sensory issues regarding food and drink
  • Liaise with others who work with the child
  • Refer on to ENT if necessary



Last updated: January 26th, 2018