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Swallowing disorder (dysphagia) in children- Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Posted on- Aug 26, 2015
  • 541 Views

In simple language, swallowing is thought of to be an uncomplicated process. Contrary to this belief, swallowing is a very complex process, involving almost 50 pairs of muscles and nerves. There are actually three phases (Oral preparatory and transport phase, Pharyngeal phase and Oesophageal phase) involved in the swallowing process. When one finds difficulty in swallowing, there is probably something wrong in the execution of one of these phases. This condition is called ‘Dysphagia’. This is a common problem in children.

Causes of swallowing disorder (dysphagia) in children

Damage to any of the organs, muscles, or nerves involved in the swallowing process leads to dysphagia. Some of the causes are listed below:
  • Damage to brain or nervous system: Nervous system disorders like, stroke, Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease, and multiple sclerosis may cause dysphagia, if any nerve involved in the swallowing process is affected.
  • Structural problems: Narrow oesophagus, large tongue, cleft lip, large tonsils and dental problems are some structural disorders that make chewing or swallowing of food difficult, thereby leading to dysphagia.
  • Muscular Damage: Muscular disorders like muscular dystrophy can affect the muscles involved in the process of swallowing, thus causing dysphagia. Scleroderma and achalasia are other causes, wherein they may affect the oesophagus, thus leading to dysphagia.

Symptoms of swallowing disorder (dysphagia) in children

Every child suffering from dysphagia may show different symptoms. The following are some of the symptoms that are observed:
  • Babies suffering from dysphagia are unable to coordinate sucking and swallowing breast- or bottle-milk. They may arch their bodies, while feeding.
  • Taking a long time to eat.
  • Drooling, vomiting, or coughing, frequent sneezing after eating or difficulty in chewing food.
  • Unable to coordinate breathing with eating and/or drinking.
  • Change in voice before or after eating.
  • Pneumonia
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis of swallowing disorder (dysphagia) in children

In the diagnosis of dysphagia in children, the paediatrician will examine the child and his medical history. Eating habits of the child will help in the diagnosis of the disease. Following are some tests that the doctor may perform:
  • Oral-pharyngeal video swallow: The child is fed any liquid or solid food that contains barium. Barium, a non-toxic element, is used as it visible on X-rays. The X-ray helps to examine what exactly happens when the child swallows food.
  • Barium swallow: The child is given liquid containing barium, and X-rays are taken. Any problems in mouth, oesophagus, or stomach are noted. This test helps to know the exact cause of the swallowing problem.
  • Endoscopy: The child is given anaesthesia, and an endoscope is inserted in the digestive track. An endoscope is a flexible pipe with a light and a camera at the inserted end. Images of the mouth, oesophagus and stomach are taken to locate the problem.

Treatment of swallowing disorder (dysphagia) in children

Dysphagia in children can be treated but the treatment will differ for every child. Age, health, medical history of the child are factors considered while giving the treatment. The severity of the disease is also an important factor. Speech and occupational therapies are some of the treatments given to such children. These include exercises that help in swallowing. Some children may be hospitalized, if the condition is severe.

Dysphagia in children gives rise to other health problems. If the form of the disease is severe, it needs urgent treatment. If he/she is suffering from dysphagia, consult a paediatrician at the earliest.