Therapist Gives Tips

MINSTER — A local speech language pathologist reviewed some tips and treatments available for swallowing issues during a program on Wednesday.

Swallowing issues, or dysphagia, include “any difficulty in the passage of solids or liquids from the mouth to the stomach,” P.T. Services Speech Language Pathologist Denise Bergman told a crowd gathered at the F.J. Stallo Memorial Library for her presentation.

“A very important part of the swallow is the muscles moving to protect your airway,” Bergman said.  “That’s key to a good swallow. You stop breathing for a split second when you swallow. If you haven’t closed off that airway, it’s very likely that food particles will enter the airway and cause aspiration and pneumonia.”

Bergman noted reflexes become slower and muscles become weaker as people age, making swallowing more difficult.

“This can definitely cause a problem with the safety of the swallow, and when these problems do arise, you are at an increased risk for illness, like aspiration or pneumonia,” she said.

Though many never have swallowing issues or pneumonia, Bergman noted a few red flags in case problems arise.

“During or shortly after you eat or drink, you feel like something’s getting stuck in your throat, you cough or clear your throat when you drink or eat,” she said. “Throat clearing — something as simple as that can be an indicator that your body knows something is on your vocal chords.”

Changes in voice quality, tearing up while eating or drinking, feeling a need to swallow multiple times to get food down and choking more than the average person may also indicate a swallowing issue, she said.

Bergman noted a few exercises that can help correct a swallowing issue.

“Alternate temperatures and textures and flavors just to wake the mouth up a little bit,” she said. “Taking turns on your plate in terms of what you’re eating is a good way to increase that oral sensation. If you’re mouth isn’t awake, then your swallow also isn’t awake.”

An electrical stimulation device may also be beneficial.

“We use that device and we target the specific muscle groups that are responsible for the particular problem that you’re having,” Bergman said.

In addition to helping their patients swallow their food and drinks safely, Bergman said speech language pathologists are also concerned with their patients’ nutrition.

“If you have a swallowing issue and you’re starting to lose weight, that’s an issue to, so we have to make sure that your nutrition is in balance as well,” Bergman said.

“Taking some of those nutritional supplements like Boost or Ensure can sometimes also help.”

Patients who are having trouble swallowing may be put on a special diet that restricts the types of foods that can be consumed, eliminating foods that are sticky or crunchy and, therefore, harder to swallow. The diet, Bergman said, focuses on moist foods, which are much easier to swallow.

Patients may also be told to drink thickened liquids, which move slower down the throat.

Bergman also recommended taking smaller bites and small sips of liquid during a meal to help with swallowing issues. If eating becomes tiring, spreading out meals and eating more frequently is recommended.

“We never want you guys burning more calories than you’re actually taking, so try to spread out small meals and take nutritional supplements,” she said.

Oral care is also important.

“Oral care is absolutely huge,” Bergman said.

“There are some medications that can cause dry mouth, which makes things even harder to swallow. If you do some oral care, like brushing your teeth or rinsing with mouth wash, that’s going to stimulate your salivary glands and get more saliva going.”

For more information about swallowing issues and speech language pathology, call P.T. Services at 419-628-6920. For a complete list of events at the F.J. Stallo Memorial Library, visit