When Swallowing Food Becomes a Problem: Dysphagia

When Swallowing Becomes A Problem: Dysphagia - Dr. Paul Mok

There may be some people who are always watching their calories, but there are many others who find joy in eating and snacking. After all, who can resist the goodness of a chocolate bar? Eating well is fundamental to one’s overall good health and wellbeing. However, there are others among us who have to endure a life without this basic pleasure because of dysphagia, an inability to swallow.

In this article, we speak to Dr. Paul Mok, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon at My ENT Specialist, Farrer Park Hospital, to learn about the condition and find out if it is possible to reverse it.

A Complex Process that Involves the Brain, Muscles and Nerves

People with dysphagia experience difficulty swallowing and they require more time to move food and liquid from their mouth to stomach. While it may seem like a simple action, swallowing food is a far more complex than imagined for it requires the brain, nerves and muscles, two muscular valves and an unconstricted esophagus to work hand in hand.

Touching on the importance of this coordination, Dr. Mok said:

“The act of swallowing is finely coordinated by the brain and executed through nerve connections via the muscles of the throat. Diseases affecting the brain such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke or dementia, as well as the nerves and muscles can impair one’ ability to swallow.”

When food is unable to transit smoothly from the throat into the esophagus, aspiration of food in the lungs can happen; causing pneumonia, a life-threatening situation especially in the frail and elderly.

Risk of Dysphagia Increases with Age

The elderly are more prone to strokes and degenerative diseases of the brain, placing them at a higher risk of experiencing dysphagia.

“They may also be frail and be on medication for other health concerns that may cause mouth dryness, making swallowing more difficult. If food goes in the wrong tract into the lungs, that’s when they will have more difficulty coughing it up,” Dr. Mok added.

Can People with Dysphagia Swallow Normally Again?

With early detection and treatment, dysphagia can be overcome. If one displays symptoms such as choking on food or drink easily, coughing during or after swallowing and have been experiencing trouble moving food to the back of their mouth, they should visit an ENT specialist as soon as possible for a head and neck evaluation to exclude an obstructive cause.

Depending on the severity of the dysfunction, the patient will be advised to go through swallowing or speech therapy or even surgery.

“In severe cases where there is a high risk of aspiration, feeding is sometimes impossible and the patient may need a feeding tube. We will work closely with nutritionists to optimize the meal plans to prevent malnutrition and dehydration,” Dr. Mok revealed.

With Singapore being an ageing population where they may be an elderly in almost every other household, it remains more important than ever to spot the signs of dysphagia early to prevent health hazards.

If you require medical attention, visit our 24-HR Emergency Clinic or call us at 6705 2999To learn more, send us an enquiry here.

This Article Was Reviewed By:

Senior Consultant and Medical Director at | +65 6397 5280 | enquiries@myentspecialist.sg | Website

Dr. Paul Mok is a Senior Consultant and Medical Director of My ENT Specialist Clinic at Farrer Park Medical Centre. Dr. Mok graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1991. He obtained his post-graduate degree in ENT surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians in Glasgow in 1997. In 2001, Dr. Mok spent a year at the Grabscheid Voice Center, Mt Sinai Hospital, New York pursuing his laryngology fellowship. Upon his return in 2002, he worked at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), before leaving for private practice in 2015. He was the Deputy Chairman Medical Board at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) from 2013-2015, Head of Department at the Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery Department at Alexandra Hospital and KTPH from 2006-2013. Although Dr. Mok’s main subspecialty interests are in voice, swallowing and obstructive sleep apnea, he also manages patients with general ENT conditions such as nasal allergies and sinus conditions, hearing loss, giddiness and diseases of the th​yroid​ and salivary glands.

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