Did you know that difficulty swallowing can occur as a result of a stroke or undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer? Did you know that according to the CDC it is estimated 89 percent of people with traumatic brain injury, MS and Parkinson’s disease have trouble with swallowing? Did you know that speech-language pathologists evaluate and treat those suffering from swallowing disorders?
Michelle Brueckner, a speech-language pathologist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare and a board-certified swallowing and swallowing disorder specialist says, “Swallowing disorders or dysphagia can occur as a result of brain or nerve damage such as a stroke, head injury, ALS, MS, dementia or Parkinson’s. Many of our patients are also being treated for head and neck cancer or have respiratory problems that affect their ability to swallow.”
Symptoms of a Swallowing Disorder
Swallowing disorders can lead to a loss of quality of life, dehydration, poor nutrition, food or liquid going into the airway (called aspiration) and even pneumonia or lung infections. Symptoms include:
- Coughing during or right after eating or drinking.
- Wet or gurgly voice during or after eating or drinking.
- Extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow.
- Food feeling stuck in your mouth, throat or chest.
- Having a hard time breathing after meals.
- Losing weight.
Evaluating Swallowing Disorder with FEES
One of the most advanced evaluation tools that speech-language pathologists have to help diagnose a swallowing disorder is Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES). During a FEES study, a small flexible scope with a light source and camera is passed through the nose. This allows a clear view of the throat during swallowing.
Michelle explains the benefits of the FEES for evaluation of swallowing disorders, “FEES not only gives us a direct view of the throat and airway, it gives us the ability to assess secretions and see how someone swallows various food textures and liquids.”
Other benefits of the FEES study are:
- Procedure is easily tolerated.
- Can be done with a patient in a bed or chair.
- No exposure to radiation.
- Can be done in an outpatient setting.
Michelle says, “Our goal as speech-language pathologists is to help patients eat and drink as safely as possible. We can help patients improve their swallow function through exercises, teaching specific swallowing techniques and suggesting special diets.” She added, “The treatment of swallowing disorders is very individualized. We provide education, assistance and support to our patients and their caregivers so that they can achieve the quality of life they desire.”
May is Better Speech and Hearing month. If you have concerns with swallowing, you may need an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and a referral to St. Elizabeth Speech-Language Pathology Department. To schedule an appointment, call (859) 655-7400.