Pediatric dysphagia (swallowing disorder) occurs when a child has difficulty swallowing food or liquids. This can occur in any phase of the swallowing process.
A child with dysphagia may have trouble swallowing food or liquids, including saliva. The child may also experience pain while swallowing. It is difficult for a child with a swallowing disorder to get the correct amount of nutrients into their body, which can affect the child’s ability to grow and gain weight.
It takes about 50 pairs of muscles and 6 cranial nerves working together for human beings to swallow. If anything goes wrong anywhere in the process, it may cause a disorder known as dysphagia. Swallowing and feeding disorders are common in children. It's estimated between 25% and 45% of normally developing children have some form of the condition.
Swallowing has four phases. The first two phases are voluntary, while phases three and four occur involuntarily in a child’s body. A child has dysphagia when one or more of these phases fail to occur properly:
Oral preparation phase is when food and liquid are prepared in the mouth for swallowing (chewing).
Oral phase is when the tongue starts the swallowing response by pushing the food and liquid to the back of the mouth.
Pharyngeal phase is when food and liquid are passed through the pharynx (throat) and into the esophagus (swallowing tube).
Esophageal phase is when food and liquid goes from the esophagus into the stomach.
While symptoms of dysphagia vary by child, in general, the main symptom is a child’s inability to swallow correctly while eating or drinking. Other accompanying symptoms may include the following.
There are a variety of illnesses, diseases and congenital (present from birth) defects that can cause dysphagia in a child. A few of the most common include:
Treatments can range from behavioral therapy and medications to surgery. Your speech-language pathologist (SLP) will work with you and other specialists to determine the treatment plan that is right for your child.
American Board of Pediatrics,
American Board of Pediatrics/Gastroenterology
Children with dysphagia sometimes reject certain foods or eat smaller amounts than usual. If your child displays any of the following symptoms during feedings over time, get to your doctor right away.
Your pediatrician will ask you about any swallowing or feeding problems and give your child a physical exam. He may recommend a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who may
Depending on the extent of the dysphagia, the SLP may put together a feeding team. Members might include physicians, nutritionists, physical therapists or developmental specialists.
Swallowing and feeding disorders are common in children. Estimates are between 25% and 45% of normally developing kids have some form of dysphagia.
Your pediatrician will perform a physical examination on your child. If she suspects dysphagia, she will refer you to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to run further tests.
Left untreated, dysphagia can cause malnutrition or dehydration, aspiration and pneumonia. These can all lead to more serious medical conditions later on.