Eating, Feeding and Swallowing Problems
What are eating, feeding and swallowing problems?
Eating, feeding and swallowing problems occur when a child is unable to manage food and / drink in the mouth and swallow it safely. The child may have difficulty gathering, biting, sucking or chewing food / drink correctly.
Eating, feeding and swallowing problems are also termed dysphagia.
Stages of the normal swallow
There three main stages of swallowing include:
Oral phaseThe oral phase of swap>llowing involves chewing, sucking and moving food or liquid into the throat.
The pharyngeal phase triggers the start of the swallow. Food / liquid travels through the throat and the airway is closed off to stop the food or liquid entering the airway. Food or liquid entering the airway is known as aspiration.
The oesophageal phase involvep>s the relaxing and tightening of the muscles of the feeding tube, this action squeezes the food / liquid through the oesophagus into the stomach.
Eating, feeding and swallowing problems can occur at any of the three stages of the swallow and cause a variety of medical and health difficulties if left untreated.
What problems caused by eating, feeding and swallowing difficulties can speech and language therapy help with?
Clinical research has shown that children with eating, feeding and swallowing difficulties benefit from speech and language therapy input.
For infants who are bottle or breast fed, having a difficulty in eating, feeding and swallowing can affect their nutrition and hydration.
An infant or a child with eating, drinking and feeding difficulties will have an increased risk of aspiration. This can cause:
- Lack of weight gain.
- Respiratory problems.
- Inadequate nutrition and / hydration.
The speech and language therapist will help the child, their family and others involved in their care in eating and drinking as safely as possible. The speech and language therapist will also minimize the risk of aspiration.
What causes eating, feeding and swallowing problems?
Eating, feeding and swallowing disorders in babies and children can be caused by many factors.
Some of the causes of feeding and swallowing disorders in children include:
- Neurological disorders.
- Cleft lip and / or palate.
- Autistic spectrum disorders.
- Gastrointestinal conditions.
- Low birth weight.
- Conditions affecting the airway.
- Heart disease.
- Head / neck abnormalities.
- Respiratory difficulties.
- Medications causing tiredness or loss of appetite.
- Muscle weakness.
- Parent-child interaction problems at meal times.
How are eating, feeding and swallowing problems diagnosed?
Speech and language therapists play a key role in identifying, diagnosing and assessing eating, feeding and swallowing problems in babies and children.
An initial assessment will help to identify if there is an eating, feeding and swallowing problem also the severity of the problem.
An initial assessment will involve:
- A review of the child's medical history, development, and symptoms.
- Observing the strength and movement of the muscles that are involved in the swallowing process.
- A meal time / feeding observation.
- A swallow assessment.
- A more specific and detailed swallow assessment, including a barium swallow which X-rays the child whilst they are eating or drinking, or an endoscopic assessment- a lighted scope inserted through the nose for a detailed view of the swallow.
An initial assessment will contribute to what type of treatment plan will be given.
How does speech and language therapy help eating, feeding and swallowing problems?
Speech and language therapy helps to improve the baby / child's ability to swallow more effectively and safely, reduce the risk of aspiration and increase their nutritional status.
Speech and language therapy is also beneficial to parents, carers and other professionals involved in the baby / child's care.
What would speech and language therapy treatment for eating, feeding and swallowing problems involve?
Following an initial assessment the speech and language therapist will devise an individualised treatment plan to suit the specific needs and abilities of the child and their family.
Some of the treatments that may be provided include:
- Advice on posture during eating, feeding and swallowing
- Dietary modifications e.g. altered food textures.
- Advice on the consistency and amount of food, also the feeding environment.
- Education on the signs of aspiration.
- Whether a feeding tube is required.
- Oro-motor exercises.
- Exercises / techniques to carry out during eating and drinking.
- One to One Therapy
- Clinic Visits
- Home Visits
- Alternative and Augmentative Communication
- Advice and Education
- eating, drinking and swallowing management
How do I arrange a speech and language therapy assessment for eating, feeding and swallowing problems?
To arrange an assessment with one our speech and language therapists please call 0330 0885 643.
Eating, feeding and swallowing problems occur when a child is unable to manage food and / drink in the mouth and swallow it safely. Speech and language therapy will help both the child and their family in eating, feeding and swallowing effectively and safely. If you feel you and your child may benefit from speech and language therapy then please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0330 0885 643.
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