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What’s Making it Difficult for Me to Swallow?

Sep 01, 2023
What’s Making it Difficult for Me to Swallow?
Are you finding it hard to swallow comfortably and aren’t sure why? Take a moment to learn about some of the potential causes, and find out about some of the therapies that can treat this condition.

Have you ever been in the middle of a meal or about to enjoy a glass of your favorite beverage, only to find that swallowing isn’t as effortless as it should be? Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, isn’t just a hiccup in the dining experience. It’s a condition that can pose serious health issues if left untreated. 

The first step is understanding what’s causing your condition, so you can get the treatment you need to swallow easily. Our board-certified ENT providers at Advanced Specialty Associates in St. Paul and Baxter, Minnesota, are experts in diagnosing and treating the different causes of dysphagia.

In this blog, they explain some of the reasons why this condition can occur, and they delve into some of the treatments.

Understanding dysphagia

Dysphagia is more than just a little discomfort when you swallow. This condition describes a persistent problem that affects your ability to eat and drink normally, and it can lead to serious complications, such as malnutrition and severe weight loss, if not treated. 

It can occur at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. Furthermore, dysphagia can manifest in different ways. For some, it might feel like food is stuck in their throat or chest, while others may choke or gag when trying to swallow. 

Dysphagia is usually a sign of an underlying condition. The problem can arise in different parts of the swallowing process. Here’s a look at a few common causes:

Hypothyroidism or thyroid nodules

If your thyroid gland isn’t as active as it should be, it can swell. This puts added pressure on your esophagus, making it feel like something is stuck in your throat, which can cause trouble swallowing. 

Esophageal stricture

If the esophagus becomes narrow due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or tumors, this can make swallowing difficult.

Esophageal ring

Sometimes a ring of tissue forms in the lower part of the esophagus. This can lead to dysphagia, especially when trying to swallow solid food.

Diffuse spasm

This condition causes the muscles of the esophagus to contract in an uncoordinated way (spasm). As a result, it can be hard to swallow.

Neurological disorders

Conditions like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy can disrupt the nerves controlling the swallowing muscles, which can cause dysphagia.

Stroke or brain injury

Damage to the brain can interfere with the swallowing reflexes and the coordination of muscles involved in swallowing.


Achalasia is a condition in which the lower esophageal muscle (sphincter) doesn't relax enough to allow food into the stomach, which can make swallowing difficult.


This disease can cause the tissue of the esophagus to stiffen, which can lead to difficulty swallowing. It can also make you more likely to experience acid reflux. 

Radiation therapy

If radiation therapy is used to target your neck or head, this could trigger swelling and the development of scar tissue. As a result, this could lead to swallowing difficulties.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. Many conditions can lead to difficulty swallowing. Furthermore, it’s important to identify the underlying cause of dysphagia in order to get treated successfully. So if you have difficulty swallowing, it’s imperative that you schedule an exam with a provider at Advanced Specialty Associates.

Diagnosing and treating dysphagia

If you're struggling with dysphagia, it's important to visit ENT specialists, such as our providers at Advanced Specialty Associates. 

Our team may recommend endoscopy, laryngoscopy, or a barium swallow test to get a clear view of your swallowing process and identify any abnormalities. Once we pinpoint the problem, we can tailor a treatment plan to your needs. 

For example, if your dysphagia is caused by GERD, we may recommend antacids or proton pump inhibitors to reduce the excess stomach acid that may be causing inflammation and swelling in your esophagus.

Your plan might also include one or more of the following:

  • Dietary changes
  • Muscle exercises
  • Medications
  • Vocal cord injections
  • Dilation

In some cases, surgery may be required to treat your condition. For example, your provider may recommend a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, or the removal of lesions on your vocal cords.  

Ongoing problems swallowing isn’t normal, and it’s not something to ignore. If you struggle with dysphagia, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Advanced Specialty Associates today.