Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder -- you may have trouble swallowing, or it may be too painful to swallow. In extreme cases, you may be completely unable to swallow, making it difficult to consume enough calories to nourish your body, and a feeding tube may need to be inserted to provide essential nutrients. Most prevalent in the elderly, dysphagia is associated with Parkinson's disease, stroke, nervous system disorders, cerebral palsy and cancer of the esophagus, head or neck.
Work with a speech-language pathologist to identify where in the swallowing process you may be having trouble. Certain exercises can be performed to strengthen weak facial muscles and improve swallowing. Also, make changes in the size and texture of your food, or change the posture of your head or neck while swallowing.
Have your esophageal sphincter loosened with a special balloon inserted into your esophagus and then inflated. A doctor may also insert flexible tubing into your esophagus to stretch it -- a technique called esophageal dilation.
Take medications to relax your muscles and prevent spasms, or treat acid reflux if your difficulty swallowing is related to GERD. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment based on the cause of your dysphagia.
Try an herbal remedy or alternative treatment. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests 250 mg of licorice taken three times a day to reduce spasms and swelling and to soothe an inflamed gastrointestinal tract. Slippery elm or marshmallow tea are also good for protecting inflamed tissues and aiding in healing. Acupuncture has been shown to provide some relief from dysphagia, especially for stroke victims.
Dysphagia may have a serious impact on your quality of life. MayoClinic.com recommends joining a support group to cope with the effects of swallowing issues.
Other risk factors for dysphagia include smoking, excessive alcohol use, teeth or dentures in poor condition or certain medications.