Dysphagia is when it is especially difficult to swallow, requiring more time, energy and effort to get the food or liquid in the mouth down to the Stomach. Some people can't swallow at all. This can be both painful and frustrating to say the least.
Other symptoms of dysphagia are:
Drooling of saliva
Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
Bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
A sensation that food is stuck in your throat or chest
Though this condition is usually caused by other health concerns such as cancer, certain medications, smoking, GERD (acid reflux) where Stomach acid leaks back up into the oesophagus and any number of conditions that affect the nervous system like strokes, dementia, head injuries. In addition to these complications, it is very common for dysphagia to occur in the elderly.
Why do the elderly experience trouble swallowing? The above factors as well as the weakening of mouth and throat muscles. Oral hygiene plays a role too in cases of poorly fitting dentures. In TICM, dysphagia is caused by meridian blockages affecting the tongue and throat. Blockages are due to pathogens like wind that can result in phlegm, as well as Qi (energy) and Blood stasis.
How can you help?
Acupuncture: several clinical studies suggest that acupuncture can stimulate the swallowing reflex depending on the cause. One study showcased that acupuncture is an effective treatment modality for the restoration of swallowing after a craniocerebral injury.
Herbal medicine: many herbs are helpful in the treatment of dysphagia, depending on the cause and pattern leading to this condition. Speak to your doctor to diagnose a pattern so herbs can be recommended.
Don't use straws: straws increase the amount of liquid to consume at one time, making it difficult to do so.
Nourishment: make sure they are getting enough hydration and nutrients. Choose foods that are easily digestible like soups, pureed vegetables, yogurt, congee, mashed up foods, bone broth, etc.