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Do You or Someone You Know have a Swallowing Problem? (Part 1)

[Editors note. This mini-series was a collaborative effort by Sharon C. Meier, MS CCC-SLP (Able Speech and Voice in Osprey, Florida), Jan Pryor, MA CCC-SLP BCS-S, and Ellen Conover, MS CF-SLP. Part one focuses on swallowing disorder symptoms; part two, to be published next week, focuses on what to expect during an initial swallowing assessment. NFOSD would like to thank each of our contributing authors.]

How do you know if you have a swallowing problem?  There are many symptoms that indicate you may need to see a swallowing specialist.

These may include:

  • Difficulty extracting food/liquid (from utensil or cup)
  • Difficulty chewing food
  • Difficulty initiating a swallow
  • Holding food in the cheeks
  • Food remaining in the mouth after swallowing
  • Frequent coughing/choking/throat clearing during meals
  • Globus – feeling of food/liquid “sticking” in the throat
  • Oral regurgitation – spitting out/vomiting food/liquid
  • Nasal regurgitation – when food/liquid exits through the nose
  • Reliance on liquid in order to swallow solid food
  • Increased time to complete meal

More subtle symptoms (listed below) which, combined with clinical signs (recurrent respiratory tract infections, diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia, chronic cough, fever of unknown origin), may also suggest a referral for a swallowing evaluation

  • Increased saliva production/drooling
  • Indifference or resistance to eating
  • Changes in taste
  • Vocal changes (gurgly)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unanticipated weight loss
  • Mental status changes

These symptoms may impact a person’s quality of life.  They may lead to

  • Aspiration – when food, liquids or saliva enter the lower airway without being coughed out
  • Aspiration pneumonia – when chronic aspiration of food, liquid or saliva causes a pulmonary infection; this may be life-threatening
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition – due to fear/reluctance to eat
  • Unanticipated weight loss
  • Feelings of isolation – due to inability to participate in social interactions involved with eating

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor to obtain a referral to a swallowing specialist immediately.  You may also research a BCS-S (Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing) in your area on our site at or email us at for additional help.