When you have difficulty swallowing, it is known as dysphasia. Dysphasia is more common among older individuals, in part because of physical changes in the mouth and throat, but also because dysphasia is often caused by conditions associated with old age, like stroke, chronic diseases affecting the nervous system, surgeries of the head and neck and certain medications that cause dryness in the mouth and throat.
Physical Changes that Cause Dysphasia
Below are some physical changes that cause dysphasia as we age.
Reduced Bulk in the Vocal Cords
When we swallow, the vocal cords close to protect the airway. Reduced bulk can mean the airway is not protected, and foods and drinks can enter the lungs, which is known as aspiration. Symptoms of aspiration include coughing or voice change after swallowing.
Reduced Strength of the Tongue and Throat
The throat constricts from top to bottom during a swallow to help propel foods and drinks from the mouth to the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. If this action is not completed, food can remain in the throat after swallowing, threatening the airway.
Decreased Size of the Sphincter
The sphincter is the muscle at the top of the esophagus that relaxes and opens to allow food and drinks through. If the size of the opening decreases, foods, drinks and pills can get stuck.
Elongation of the Throat
The throat also lengthens and dilates as we age. This means the normal time for a swallow increases from about one second to be 20% longer. The airway must then be protected longer in order for a swallow to be safe.
For more information about how swallowing changes as we age or to see a swallowing expert for symptoms of dysphasia, call ENT & Allergy Specialists today.