When Swallowing is Hard to Do: Dysphagia Tips to Ease Your Eating Anxiety

In simple terms, dysphagia is a condition where the individual may find it extremely difficult to swallow. This means it can take a lot more time for liquid or foods to be transported from the mouth to the stomach and, if dysphagia persists, it can develop into a severe medical condition that requires medical treatment.

Due to the often uncomfortable, worrying symptoms associated with dysphagia, many individuals who suffer from the condition experience extreme anxiety towards eating. Many sufferers will, in fact, eat significantly less food than they should, simply because they’re scared of the eating process and don’t find it enjoyable anymore.

If you suffer from dysphagia and are struggling with anxiety towards eating, here are a few tips you can include into your daily routine to instantly ease any eating anxiety you may be experiencing. You’ll also discover the different types of dysphagia, so you can figure out the best techniques specific to your condition.

What causes the different types of dysphagia?

Dysphagia is commonly placed into two different categories. Oropharyngeal dysphagia is when certain factors cause your throat muscles to weaken, causing difficulty moving food from the mouth to the throat, and Esophageal dysphagia is the feeling of food being stuck in the chest. Symptoms of dysphagia may vary dependent on the type, but sufferers will generally experience heartburn, drooling, regurgitation of food and anxiety surrounding eating.

Each type of dysphagia will be specific to the individual with many different causes. Some of the most common causes of this condition include tightening of the throat muscles, spasms, tumors and even scar tissue.

Whilst the symptoms and causes of dysphagia vary, many sufferers have one thing in common: eating anxiety. However, there are many simple at-home methods you can use to combat these worries, resulting in a happier and more enjoyable eating process.

Soft-food diet

One of the easiest ways to almost guarantee reduced anxiety towards eating is to primarily eat a diet of soft or pureed foods. Imagine the anxiety you’d feel if you were eating something hard and crunchy: what if this solid piece of food gets stuck in my throat and I choke? What if it’s extremely painful to swallow? What if I’ll never be able to swallow it?

Opting for soft, easy-to-swallow foods is the first major step in reducing any dysphagia anxiety you may be feeling. However, if you’re worried that you won’t be able to eat the foods you love in soft or pureed form, think again. Thick-it is renowned for being a popular solution for dysphagia sufferers, and create a wide variety of thicker, more substantial drinks as well as an array of soft meal-based purees guaranteed to satisfy your appetite without the anxiety.

Alter your head position when eating

Many people, including dysphagia sufferers, are unaware of how important head and neck positioning is for swallowing. In fact, administering the optimum head position (which you’ll find out in just a moment!) has been statistically proven to increase swallowing success of people who found it very difficult.

Gravity is a key component here, and something many of us overlook when eating. If you attempt to swallow with your head in a downward position, this can render the swallow ‘incomplete’, resulting in potentially dangerous consequences and increased anxiety. However, if the head is upright with a fully straight neck, this provides the liquid/food with a smooth, uninterrupted transition to the stomach, helped along with the natural force of gravity.

As with most medical conditions, dysphagia has a wide range of causes and is very specific to each individual, so it’s important to try a variety of head positions until you find one that suits you best.

Whilst it’s likely that an upright position will be the most effective, everyone is different; it’s essential to experiment with other options if you find the upright position uncomfortable. If you’re worried about doing this, make sure to have a friend or family member with you to alleviate any anxiety you may have about trying new positions.

Whilst dysphagia is an often uncomfortable and worrying condition for its sufferers, you now know that there are methods you can implement from the comfort of your home, to successfully reduce anxiety and make swallowing much more manageable. And, when paired with softer meals, you’ll be equipped with the techniques and resources you need to ease your anxiety.

Declan Riley is a medical school student who has a passion for learning and sharing that knowledge with an online audience which he does through his article writing.