PLWC Editorial Board
Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) occurs when a person has trouble
getting food or liquid to pass down the throat. Some people may gag,
cough, or choke when trying to swallow, while others experience pain or
feel like food is stuck in the throat.
Difficulty swallowing can be a result of cancer itself, especially
throat or esophageal cancers that can cause the esophagus to become
restricted or narrowed. Difficulty swallowing is also a relatively
common side effect of some cancer treatments. Potential side effects of
surgery, radiation treatment, or chemotherapy that can cause swallowing
Soreness, pain, or inflammation in the throat, esophagus, or mouth
Dry mouth, from
radiation treatment or chemotherapy
the mouth or esophagus, from radiation treatment or chemotherapy
constriction of the throat or esophagus, from radiation treatment or
changes to the mouth, jaws, throat, or esophagus, as a result of
Choking or gagging while swallowing can be frightening. Your doctor may
refer you to a speech therapist, a professional who specializes in
helping patients use the muscles in the mouth and throat. A speech
therapist will teach you how to swallow more easily and how to avoid
choking and gagging while eating or drinking.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to reduce inflammation and
pain. Some pain medications can be given in liquid form to be used as a
mouth rinse directly before eating. People with a mouth or throat
infection, such as a fungal infection like thrush, may be given
medication to treat the infection.
If swallowing problems make it difficult to eat a nutritious diet, it
may be necessary to receive food through a tube (usually a nasogastric
tube that passes through the nose into the stomach) until swallowing
Diet and eating tips for patients with difficulty swallowing
Depending on the severity and cause of swallowing difficulties,
different tips may work better for some patients than for others. Try
different types of food and ways of eating until you find what works
smooth foods, such as yogurt, pudding, and ice cream.
Mash or blend
foods to make homemade shakes or moisten dry foods with broth,
sauces, butter, or milk.
liquids by adding gelatin, tapioca, baby rice cereal, or commercial
thickening products (thicker liquids can be easier to swallow).
Use a straw to
drink liquids and soft foods.
Eat foods that
are cold (to help numb pain) or at room temperature.
bites and chew slowly and thoroughly.
when eating or drinking.
If you are
losing weight, eat small, frequent meals and choose foods that are
high in protein and calories, such as eggs, milkshakes, casseroles,
and nutritional shakes.
coarse, or hard foods and foods that need a lot of chewing.
Meet with a
registered dietitian (RD) for additional advice on eating a balanced
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This information is
provided for general medical education purposes only and
is not meant to substitute for the independent medical
judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and
treatment options of a specific patient's medical
In no event will The DrEddyClinic.com be liable for any
decision made or action taken in reliance upon the
information provided through this web site.
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