How does dysphagia cause aspiration?
Here at Wiltshire Farm Foods, we’re dedicated to using our nutritional expertise to spread good information to the public. We know it can be confusing understanding a medical condition, so we have put together the following article to help uncover a bit more about dysphagia and the signs of aspiration to ensure you are informed on these matters*.
What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a medical condition which is more commonly referred to as swallowing difficulties. Dysphagia affects the nerves and muscles of the mouth and throat and is usually caused by another condition such as stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. Some individuals will have difficulty eating and drinking some foods and drinks, whereas others may not be able to swallow at all. Other symptoms of dysphagia include:
- Coughing when eating or drinking
- Uncontrollable production of saliva
- Difficulty chewing food effectively
- Discomfort or pain when swallowing
- A feeling that food is stuck in the throat or chest
Dysphagia typically carries a risk of choking and a risk of aspiration, which will be covered in more depth. Although dysphagia is usually diagnosed and managed by a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT), more information about dysphagia can be found here.
What is aspiration?
Aspiration is the process by which a foreign substance travels via the windpipe and into the lungs instead of down the oesophagus (gullet) and into the stomach. In relation to dysphagia, this is likely to be a small piece of food, liquid or saliva. Often aspiration can be described as food or drink “going down the wrong way”.
Aspiration is undesirable as foreign substances carry bacteria which can cause aspiration pneumonia, a serious lung infection. Alongside dysphagia, the main causes of aspiration include:
- Lack of tongue control due to neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease
- Anesthesia during surgery
- Dental problems
The symptoms or signs of aspiration can be ‘silent’ or overt. Individuals with silent aspiration usually present no symptoms and can unknowingly have food or drink passing into their lungs. Overt aspiration usually features abrupt coughing to remove the food or fluid from the lungs, trouble breathing or a gurgly ‘wet’ sounding voice.
How can I treat dysphagia to prevent aspiration?
Dysphagia is usually managed by a texture modified diet, as recommended by a Speech and Language Therapist. A texture modified diet is where food and drink has had its consistency changed, and is often referred to as ‘soft’ foods or a ‘soft’ diet, but the NHS recommends the following terminology:
- Level 4 Purée Diet
- Level 5 Minced & Moist Diet
- Level 6 Soft & Bite-Sized Diet
Our Softer Foods Range
If you are concerned about producing and eating the correct texture of food at home, then rest assured that Wiltshire Farm Foods can help. We have an award-winning range of texture modified ready meals – our Softer Foods range. These meals are expertly and caringly made to stringent standards to ensure they are both as safe and as delicious as possible, across a range of 3 textures:
As you can see from the images above, our Level 4 Purée ready meals are also moulded to resemble familiar foods – as they say – we eat with our eyes! Not only do our meals look and taste great, but thanks to our in-house Dietitian, Helen, the Softer Foods range prioritises good nutrition. For example, our Puree Petite range contains at least 500 calories and 16g of protein, to ensure you get the nourishment your body needs.