Skip to main content

Voice & Swallowing Center - In The Media NBC

Many Therapies Can Ease Swallowing Pain
Swallowing Problems Could Be Helped With Diet, Medication

NEW YORK -- We all swallow hundreds of times a day, and most of us take it for granted. But some people have trouble with this seemingly simple action. Chip Michaels makes a living singing. But the fact that he can still croon is a miracle. Michaels' main concern about his condition was that he was waking up so hoarse that he could hardly speak, much less sing -- and like most people with swallowing difficulty, his main complaint was that he had a constant large lump in his throat.

Swallowing difficulties affect as many as 10 million Americans, said Dr. Jonathan Aviv of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. He said they can be due to neurological diseases such as Parkinson's or Lou Gehrig's, or lifestyle issues such as smoking and drinking alcohol, or even tumors or just plain acid reflux -- all of which get worse as we age. "We all aspirate or choke a little bit every day but as this keeps happening over a period of time, especially as we get older, the windpipe and lungs get soiled; they get chronically infected as the amount of asparation continues," Aviv said.

One of the things that can give people a difficult time swallowing is certain foods. "Certain substances like caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and mint increase acid production," Aviv said. In many cases, if the problem a person is having is related to acid reflux, antacid medications can help, as well can simply drinking more water. For other people, like Michaels, a combination of therapies and steroids to reduce the inflammation in his throat is what it took to help him with his swallowing problems.

Treatment for swallowing problems, or dysphagia, depends of course on the cause. The diagnostic process can include everything from the nasal scope we saw on chip to X-rays, while swallowing barium, or doing other tests. The trick is going to a center that specializes in dysphagia.