What is Dysphagia?

How an ENT Doctor Can Help You With Your Swallowing Disorder

What is Dysphagia?

Swallowing seems easy, but it actually requires your brain, several nerves and muscles, two muscular valves, and your esophagus to work in tandem. Even those without a swallowing disorder can sometimes let something go down the “wrong pipe,” causing them to erupt into a coughing fit.

Some people have difficulty swallowing, and this condition can greatly affect their quality of life. To understand what’s wrong with swallowing, we must first understand how swallowing happens.

The Biological Functions Behind Swallowing

A throat specialist in LA will tell you that the act of swallowing food or drink normally happens in three phases. In the first phase, food or liquid is held in the mouth by the tongue and oral cavity. This phase is the only one we can control.

The second phase begins when the brain makes the decision to swallow. At this point, a complex series of natural reflexes begin, and these are controlled by the medulla oblongata, which is a part of the brain that regulates involuntary reflexes like swallowing, breathing, and heart rate. The throat takes the food, and the muscular valve at the bottom opens, allowing food into the esophagus. At the same time, the muscles around the trachea constrict to prevent food from entering the “wrong pipe.” This second phase takes under a second.

The third phase and final phase starts when food enters into the esophagus. The esophagus will contract to move the food towards the muscular valve at the end, which opens in tandem and allows food to enter the stomach. This phase of swallowing takes 6-8 seconds to happen.

However, some people cannot swallow certain food and drink or they face difficulty swallowing everything. If you have difficulty swallowing, it’s possible you have a medical condition called dysphagia, which can be diagnosed by an ENT doctor in Los Angeles.

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a bit of a blanket term for difficulty swallowing. You may have dysphagia if you frequently choke during meals. It’s normal for food to occasionally get stuck in your throat, but you may have dysphagia if you cannot wash this food down with a swig of water.

If you have dysphagia you may experience:

  • Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Spitting food up after trying to swallow, sometimes through your nose
  • The feeling that food is lodged in your throat or chest
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Persistent drooling or excess saliva
  • Recurring pneumonia, which signals a more serious issue where food may be entering your lungs

While the above symptoms happen to a healthy person every once in a while, a person with dysphagia will experience these problems every time they eat, and they will likely also experience weight loss along with their symptoms. This is likely due to eating smaller meals or skipping meals because of the hassle.

Dysphagia often occurs in tandem with acid reflux, which is when the stomach acids are regurgitated into the esophagus, causing a sour taste. A specialist for acid reflux can help you treat this issue, which may in turn improve your symptoms of dysphagia.

People who suffer from difficulty swallowing may be desperate to find out why they are having such difficulties. Sadly, ENT specialists cannot offer a one-size-fits-all solution; since swallowing is so complex, dysphagia can have many causes.

Causes of Dysphagia

Doctors typically divide dysphagia into two different categories: esophageal dysphagia and oropharyngeal dysphagia.

Esophageal Dysphagia
Esophageal dysphagia is caused by problems with the esophagus, and in this condition, food will stick in the base of your throat after you’ve begun to swallow. It may be that your throat cannot relax properly to allow food to pass through.

This condition is also more closely related to acid reflux. After suffering acid reflux for a while, the throat can develop scarring or less flexibility to open, making it difficult to swallow. Radiation therapy can also lead to inflammation and scarring of the esophagus, which would also make it difficult for food to pass through.

Esophageal dysphagia can be diagnosed after examining your esophagus and examining your swallowing ability.

Oropharyngeal dysphagia
Oropharyngeal dysphagia is characterized by weakened throat muscles, which makes sending food down the esophagus and into the stomach difficult. This type of dysphagia is often caused by a neurological disorder that affects the rest of your body movements as well. Disorders that can cause this include:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Difficulties caused by a stroke or brain injury

Treatment for Swallowing Problems

The type of dysphagia you have will directly affect your treatment. While there’s no cure, dysphagia can be improved with medication, surgery, and holistic treatment options.

Treatments for dysphagia include:

  • Voice and speech therapy in Los Angeles to learn new swallowing techniques
  • Limiting your diet to foods that are easiest to swallow
  • Insertion of a feeding tube
  • Widening the esophagus through a tracheostomy in Los Angeles
  • Inserting a stent through surgery to make swallowing easier

While you wait for an ENT specialist to diagnose your disorder, you can adjust your diet to consist of dysphagia friendly foods, which include:

  • Pureed soups
  • Yogurts and puddings
  • Smoothies
  • Well-blended mashed potatoes
  • Pre-gelled breads
  • Pureed fruits and mashed bananas
  • Pureed meats
  • Souffles
  • Rice
  • Broth

Make sure that when blending foods, you do it thoroughly to eliminate any chunks, as these are tougher to swallow. If you make mashed potatoes, make sure that they are well-moistened and don’t include the skins.

About Westside Head & Neck

The board-certified ENT doctors of Westside Head & Neck treat all general conditions of the ear, nose, and throat. Every doctor under Westside Head & Neck has extensive training in the treatment of:

Even more serious conditions such as neck, mouth, and throat cancer can also be diagnosed and operated on by ENTs. We accept most PPO insurance plans, Medicare, and select HMO’s to keep hearing, swallowing, and breathing relief open to more Los Angelenos. Our two offices are located in Santa Monica and Culver City. To set up an appointment to discuss your ENT issues with any of our physicians at either location, please call (310) 361-5128 or email appointments@westsidehn.com.

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Our Services

Voice & Swallowing Disorders

What is Dysphagia?Philosophy
At Westside Head and Neck, we will provide you with expert, state-of-the art care for voice, swallowing, and airway disorders. We believe in a multidisciplinary approach involving medical treatment, minimally-invasive surgery when necessary, and voice therapy.

We offer specialized diagnostic tools and therapy for people with voice problems caused by benign growths or lesions (nodules, polyps, cysts, papillomas, granulomas, vascular lesions, scar or sulcus), chronic or acute laryngitis, the aging voice, spasmodic dysphonia, vocal cord paralysis, muscle tension dysphonia, laryngopharyngeal reflux, cancer of the larynx, and neurologic conditions affecting the larynx. We care for professional voice users, including singers, actors, teachers, and attorneys. For patients with breathing or swallowing problems, we provide diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.

Patient Care
Patients receive a comprehensive evaluation of vocal function including analysis of speech and voice quality and videostroboscopic examination of the larynx. Laryngeal Videostroboscopy is a routine, non-painful component of this evaluation and allows the physician to assess the laryngeal anatomy, pliability of the vocal folds, and motion of the vocal cords. This can be done using a rigid or flexible endoscope, and topical anesthetic is routinely used. After the evaluation, a management and treatment plan is developed with the patient. This may include in-office procedures, medication, voice therapy, or surgery.

Common Voice and Larynx Conditions

  • Chronic sore throat
  • Cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease (LPR) & GERD
  • Laryngitis
  • Reactive vocal cord lesion
  • Spasmodic dysphonia
  • Swallowing disorders
  • Vocal cord cysts/nodules/polyps
  • Vocal cord paralysis


  • Voice rest
  • Speech / Voice therapy & practices
  • Reflux medicines & lifestyle modifications
  • Vocal cord nodule, polyp and cysts removal
  • Vocal cord medialization
  • Tracheotomy
  • Voice prosthesis
  • Antibiotics
  • Flexible fiberoptic laryngoscopy
  • Vocal cord injections

I am so grateful that I found Dr. Salvado. I’m a voice over actor who sings at church on the weekends so when my voice started to go on the fritz I was absolutely panicked. Dr. Salvado took one easy look (no tube up the nose and down the throat!! My first time not being scoped for vocal issues!!) and quickly saw what the problem was. Following her plan for rehabilitation for me, my voice is back to fully functioning and even clearer than before I started having issues. I’m so happy I found Dr. Salvado, laryngologists are hard to come by and she’s excellent. I highly recommend her!show lessAnastasia C. · February 4, 2020 via Zocdoc

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