Swallowing disorders, also referred to as dysphagia, can occur at three different stages of the swallowing process, these being:
- Oral phase: When food or liquid is being chewed, sucked and moved into the throat.
- Pharyngeal phase: When the swallowing reflex begins and food is squeezed down the throat and the airway is closed off to prevent choking.
- Esophageal phase: When the feeding tube in the throat (esophagus) is relaxed and tightened from top to bottom to squeeze food into the stomach.
Signs and symptoms of swallowing disorders when eating or drinking include coughing, wet and gurgling noises, extra effort or time to eat a meal, food or liquid leakage into the airway, pneumonia or chest congestion and weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat or drink enough.
People who have swallowing disorders may suffer from poor nutrition or dehydration, aspiration (when food or liquid enters the airway), loss of enjoyment in eating and drinking and embarrassment or isolation in social situations that involve eating and drinking.