As a parent, you want the best for your child, so noticing difficulties with feeding or swallowing can be concerning. Feeding disorders include problems with gathering food and getting ready to chew or swallow it, such as struggling to get food to the mouth or close the mouth to keep food from falling out. Swallowing disorders or dysphagia involve trouble with swallowing food and can occur at different stages in the process of swallowing. Children with feeding and swallowing problems may have a wide variety of symptoms, and each child may be different.
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Symptoms of Feeding and Swallowing Disorders
Children with feeding and swallowing disorders may display one or more of a wide range of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Trouble coordinating swallowing and breathing while drinking from a bottle, straw, or cup
- Choking, coughing, and/or gagging while eating
- Lengthy feeding times (longer than thirty minutes)
- Trouble chewing food
- Change of breathing rate while feeding
- A sensation of something stuck in the throat or chest
- Congestion during or after feeding
- Unexplained weight loss or failure to gain weight
- Refusing to eat previously accepted foods or liquids
- Limited intake of food or liquids
Impact of Feeding and Swallowing Disorders
Feeding and swallowing disorders such as dysphagia may lead to inadequate airway protection when swallowing food or liquid, which can cause aspiration, or food and liquid getting into the lungs. This can be a cause of pneumonia and upper respiratory infections. Along with this, children who struggle to manage food or liquid well, or accept a diet that is appropriate for their age, may suffer from dehydration or malnutrition. Managing the condition with a mechanical soft diet, adding products such as SimplyThick thickener gel to liquids to make them easier to swallow, or use of a feeding tube may be recommended to help avoid the risk of these complications.
Diagnosing Feeding and Swallowing Problems
If you suspect that your child may have a feeding or swallowing problem, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Depending on how severe the issue is, they may refer your child to a specialist in the evaluation of feeding problems such as a speech-language pathologist. They will perform a feeding evaluation and clinical oral-motor to evaluate the problem and determine your child’s treatment needs. There are several ways to diagnose feeding and swallowing problems including observations of the child eating, a VSS or video fluoroscopic swallowing study, which involves an x-ray being taken of the child’s throat while they eat and drink, or a Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of the Swallow (FEES) which is conducted by a speech-language pathologist and an ENT (ear, nose and throat) physician. It involves placing a scope or small tube through the child’s nose to the back of the throat to watch the structures and muscle function during swallowing.
Feeding and swallowing disorders may prevent your child from eating a healthy diet and getting the nutrients that they need to develop well. Watch out for the symptoms and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.