What is Oropharyngeal Dysphagia?


Oropharyngeal dysphagia, also named ‘high’ dysphagia, is a result of neurological complications to the mouth and/or throat. People with oropharyngeal dysphagia can have difficulty swallowing, struggle to transfer food from their mouth through to the pharynx (back of the throat) and oesophagus, as a result of temporary (often caused by surgery) or permanent changes to their senses or muscle functionality.

In this article, we delve into the causes behind oropharyngeal dysphagia, the symptoms, the diagnosis and how it can be treated.


Causes of Oropharyngeal Dysphagia

Oropharyngeal Dysphagia tends to be a secondary condition to a range of causes, ones which can be temporary or longer term.

Short-term swallowing difficulties can be a result of a sore throat (such as tonsillitis) or tooth extraction. After dental surgery you may find it hard to swallow and therefore require a textured modified diet post-surgery until your mouth has fully recovered. As these swallowing problems tend to be short-term, your swallowing can get better a few days later.

Other causes tend to be long-term, as a result of primary conditions such as;

  • Neurological diseases
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Cancer (of the tongue, throat, head and neck)
  • Dementia
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Head injury
  • Huntington Disease
  • Brain or spinal cord injury
  • Mouth and throat tremors

Oropharyngeal dysphagia can occur from weakness, paralysis or sensory loss in the muscles associated with swallowing, as a result of these conditions. Some individuals have the inability to feel any food or liquids in their mouths, or entering their windpipe and into their lungs rather than their stomach - this is commonly known as aspiration.

Symptoms of Oropharyngeal Dysphagia

The most common symptoms of oropharyngeal dysphagia can be:

  • Difficulty transferring food or liquid from the mouth through to the windpipe
  • Feeling like food is stuck in your throat
  • ‘Wet’ voice after eating and drinking
  • Dribbling
  • Coughing associated with swallowing liquid, saliva or food
  • Increased shortness of breath after eating and drinking
  • Choking
  • Regurgitation

If you experience any of these symptoms and believe it is a sign of dysphagia, get in touch with a Healthcare Professional.

Diagnosis of Oropharyngeal Dysphagia

Upon speaking to your doctor, they will go through your symptoms and undertake a physical medical examination for further tests. If required, you may be referred to a Speech and Language Therapist for further tests. This can include:

A barium swallow test: this will be to assess your swallow and examine the lining of your throat and oesophagus. They will capture images along the way, to understand what part of the swallowing process you are having difficulty with. You can find out more about this by clicking here.

Endoscopy: This involves a small flexible tube with a camera, known as an endoscope, being inserted in your mouth to see your throat, oesophagus and stomach to help understand what might be impairing your swallowing.

These procedures allow Speech and Language Therapists to see what is happening inside and locate the point of difficulty for a thorough assessment. This allows them to provide the best treatment for that individual.

Oropharyngeal Dysphagia Treatments

Treatment can depend on the result of the diagnosis and what’s causing your difficulty swallowing. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to remove obstructions, such as tumours, that restrict the movement of food to facilitate swallowing.

Your Speech and Language Therapist may also provide you with exercises and techniques to strengthen your muscles and swallowing. You may also be advised to undertake some dietary changes to aid swallowing and minimise the risk of aspiration. This could include following a strict textured modified diet.


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We offer IDDSI levels ranging from:

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