The vocal cords close (or come together) each time we swallow so that food and liquid do not enter our trachea (windpipe) and lungs.
If a person develops difficulty with the vocal cords or structures in the larynx (voice box), swallowing may be impaired. Sometimes this difficulty is related to muscle weakness, loss of sensation, or incoordination with the swallowing muscles.
Common signs of a swallowing disorder include:
Swallowing disorders can be broken down into two main origins -- oropharyngeal or esophageal:
Some people have both forms of dysphagia.
The consequences of a swallowing problem may range from mild to serious complications. One person may have mild discomfort with swallowing while another person develops a pneumonia from food or liquid entering the lungs.
The Duke Voice Care Center doctors and speech pathologists can educate you about your risks and assist you in determining the best treatment plan for your swallowing symptoms.
Evaluation may include one of the following swallowing tests:
An otolaryngologist and speech pathologist will evaluate the specific function of swallowing, determine the causes, and provide a treatment plan to meet your goals (and provide safety and comfort with swallowing).
Your treatment plan may involve changing the consistency of the foods or liquids you swallow. For example, adding a thickening agent may make swallowing liquids safer for you.
While some people may experience chronic difficulties with swallowing, there are many times where dysphagia is a temporary problem which improves. The improvement will depend on the cause of the swallowing difficulty, and the DVCC team can assist you in understanding your specific course of treatment.
Treatment may consist of a combination of swallowing therapy, medical management, and/or surgical management. Many swallowing disorders do not require surgery.
Swallowing exercises are often given by the speech pathologist to address strengthening and coordination of swallowing musculature. Compensatory swallowing strategies may be provided as well.
Zenker’s diverticulum is a pouch that forms at the back of the throat at the junction of the pharynx and the esophagus (the food passage to the stomach).
See Zenker's Diverticulum for diagnosis and treatment details.
Call 919-684-3834 (local) or 800-385-3646 (toll-free) to make an appointment with a swallowing specialist in the Triangle of North Carolina. We see patients from Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill, and beyond. Learn more about appointments with Duke Voice Care Center specialists.
Physicians offering this service include:
This service is available at: