What are the potential causes and remedies for trouble swallowing?

Symptom Database

Trouble swallowing, also known as dysphagia, is a condition that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. It can make eating and drinking a challenging and uncomfortable experience. In this article, we will explore the potential causes of trouble swallowing and discuss various remedies that can help alleviate this condition.

Causes of Trouble Swallowing

There are several potential causes of trouble swallowing, ranging from temporary issues to more serious underlying conditions. Some common causes include:

  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease): This condition causes stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, leading to irritation and difficulty swallowing.
  • Esophageal stricture: Narrowing of the esophagus due to scar tissue, tumors, or inflammation can make it difficult for food and liquids to pass through.
  • Stroke: Damage to the brain from a stroke can affect the muscles involved in swallowing, leading to dysphagia.
  • Neurological disorders: Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy can interfere with the coordination of the muscles involved in swallowing.
  • Head and neck cancer: Tumors in the throat or esophagus can obstruct the passage of food and liquids.
  • Medications: Certain medications can cause dry mouth or muscle weakness, making swallowing more challenging.

Remedies for Trouble Swallowing

While the specific treatment for trouble swallowing depends on the underlying cause, there are several remedies that can help manage the symptoms and improve swallowing function. Here are some potential remedies:

1. Dietary Modifications

Adjusting your diet can make swallowing easier and reduce discomfort. Some dietary modifications to consider include:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals: This can help prevent overloading the swallowing mechanism.
  • Chewing thoroughly: Taking the time to chew food thoroughly can make it easier to swallow.
  • Moistening food: Adding sauces, gravies, or broths to meals can make them easier to swallow.
  • Avoiding dry or hard foods: Foods that are dry or require excessive chewing can be more challenging to swallow.

2. Postural Changes

Changing your body position while eating or drinking can help facilitate swallowing. Some postural changes to try include:

  • Sitting upright: Sitting in an upright position while eating or drinking can help prevent food from going down the wrong pipe.
  • Tilting the head forward: Tilting the head slightly forward can help direct food and liquids down the esophagus.

3. Swallowing Exercises

Working with a speech-language pathologist can help improve swallowing function through targeted exercises. These exercises may include:

  • Tongue exercises: Strengthening the tongue muscles can improve control during swallowing.
  • Swallowing maneuvers: Techniques such as the Mendelsohn maneuver or the supraglottic swallow can help coordinate the swallowing muscles.

4. Medications

In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage underlying conditions contributing to trouble swallowing. For example, proton pump inhibitors can help reduce stomach acid in individuals with GERD.

5. Surgical Interventions

In more severe cases, surgical interventions may be necessary to address the underlying cause of dysphagia. These interventions can include:

  • Dilation: Widening the esophagus using a balloon or other devices can help alleviate strictures.
  • Removal of obstructions: Surgical removal of tumors or other obstructions can restore normal swallowing function.
  • Feeding tube placement: In extreme cases where swallowing is severely impaired, a feeding tube may be necessary to ensure adequate nutrition.

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for trouble swallowing. They can assess the underlying cause and recommend the most effective remedies.


Trouble swallowing, or dysphagia, can be caused by various factors, including GERD, esophageal strictures, neurological disorders, and medications. However, there are several remedies available to manage this condition and improve swallowing function. Dietary modifications, postural changes, swallowing exercises, medications, and surgical interventions are all potential options depending on the underlying cause. If you or someone you know is experiencing trouble swallowing, seeking medical advice is crucial to determine the best course of action. With the right treatment and management strategies, individuals with dysphagia can regain their ability to eat and drink comfortably.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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