Feeding & Swallowing Disorders in Children

Many kids are picky eaters. But if you’ve noticed that your child has difficulty chewing or swallowing food or drinks, it may be due to a disorder called dysphagia, which means “difficulty swallowing.”

Normally, food and liquid pass from the mouth to the throat and into the esophagus, eventually finding their way to the stomach. In kids with dysphagia, the normal swallowing process is disrupted. Food or drinks may go into the windpipe or lungs instead of the stomach, which can lead to serious problems such as:

  • Aspiration pneumonia, a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria carried into the lungs by food
  • Respiratory problems
  • Malnutrition and weight loss
  • Dehydration

Symptoms of Dysphagia

Dysphagia can affect babies as well as children, and symptoms can vary. A baby with dysphagia may show symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty coordinating sucking and swallowing
  • Gagging while feeding
  • Drooling
  • A stiff or arched body while feeding
  • Food or liquid coming out of the nose during or after feeding
  • Frequent spitting up or vomiting
  • Irritability while feeding

In children, dysphagia symptoms may include:

  • Trying to swallow a mouthful of food several times
  • Feeling like food or drink gets stuck in the throat
  • Coughing or choking while eating or drinking
  • Voice changes during or after eating
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Weight loss

Many of these symptoms also may be caused by other conditions. If your child has signs of dysphagia, make an appointment with your pediatrician.

Treating Dysphagia in Children

Dysphagia may be caused by numerous factors ranging from large tonsils and structural abnormalities to developmental delays and problems that affect the nerves and muscles involved with swallowing.

Mercy Kids pediatricians evaluate and diagnose feeding and swallowing problems using the most precise techniques. Once we know what’s causing the problem our pediatric specialists, along with your child's personal physician, will develop a personalized treatment plan for your child that also considers their age, overall health, and ability to tolerate medications or procedures.

Treatment may include:

  • Occupational therapy to make swallowing easier or more effective swallowing.
  • Therapy to help babies who may have an oral aversion to food, such as varying the types and texture of foods or providing safe objects for babies to put into their mouths.

We’ll also share tips and techniques to help make eating easier and more enjoyable for your child. At Mercy, we’re committed to helping your child live – and eat – well.

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