Have difficulty swallowing? Here are signs to look out for

ABOUT one million Australians have difficulties swallowing.

That difficulty effects their life in areas well beyond meal time.

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service speech pathologists urge people to seek advice early if they believe they are having swallowing problems.

Today is Swallowing Awareness Day - a time to raise awareness to these type of patients.

What you should know about swallowing

Swallowing does not only occur during meals' humans swallow about 900 times a day.

That includes once a minute while awake, about three times an hour when they're asleep and even more when eating and drinking.

A difficulty swallowing is known as dysphagia. It describes problems eating and drinking.

These difficulties include problems chewing, difficulty controlling saliva, difficulties protecting lungs from food and liquid going the wrong way, uncontrolled dribbling, and feeding difficulties as a child.

WBHHS Fraser Coast director of speech pathology Aimee Smith said dysphagia can occur at any stage of one's life.

"Dysphagia can put people at risk of poor nutrition and dehydration, and for babies and children this puts their development at risk," she said.

"The people we see each day range from babies who were born prematurely and children with cleft lip and palate, to adults who have suffered a head, brain or neck injury, such as a stroke. We also see people with conditions such as Parkinson's disease."

Each day WBHHS speech pathologists help patients overcome swallowing difficulties so they are able to not only enjoy life, but avoid potentially life-threatening medical problems such as pneumonia and choking.

"Eating and drinking is an important part of everyday life. It sustains us nutritionally, but also sustains us socially - many events are planned around eating and drinking," Ms Smith said.

Early signs of dysphagia include:

  • a feeling that food or drink is stuck in your throat or going down the wrong way
  • long meal times and eating slowly
  • coughing or frequent throat clearing during or after eating
  • being short of breath when eating or drinking
  • frequent chest infections with no known cause.

"Early intervention is vital. If you notice any signs, you should see your doctor or refer yourself to a speech pathologist through the Speech Pathology Australia website," Ms Smith said.

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