When to See a Doctor with Swallowing Problems

Trouble with swallowing food and liquids impacts an estimated 15 million people every year. Medically referred to as dysphagia, troubles with swallowing can range from gagging on pills to being unable to swallow whole foods. In some cases, simply having a dry mouth can cause issues with swallowing, and it can be managed without medical attention. However, it can be much more serious and is typically associated with an underlying medical condition. The problem with there being so many causes of dysphagia is knowing when to seek medical attention; we will solve this problem below.

visiting doctor

Causes of Dysphagia

There are many different causes of dysphagia, but there are a handful of usual suspects including:



        Cancer (especially of the esophagus, neck, and head) and radiation therapy (in some cases)

        Head injury

        Gastric reflux (GERD)

Given the serious nature of some of these culprits, you shouldn't ignore swallowing problems unless there is a clear reason for them.

Treating Dysphagia at Home

The cause of dysphagia will determine how you are treated for it. For mild problems such as sore throats and dry mouth, you can simply gargle with a saltwater mix to cleanse the throat. If you’ve got mild acid reflux, you should avoid aggravating substances including caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol.

If your dysphagia is serious, you will need to use a thickening agent to give liquids more substance; we recommend SimplyThick thickener. By adjusting the texture of your foods, you will reduce the risk of choking. Alongside thickeners, you will likely be recommended a pureed food diet so that you can get the necessary nutrients safely.

When to See a Doctor

If you have persistent issues with swallowing, and you’ve tried appropriate measures at home, then it's time to book a doctor's appointment. Outside of swallowing issues, dysphagia can present the following symptoms:

        Inability to chew food

        Weight loss, vomiting, and regurgitation

        Constant drooling

        Feeling of food stuck in the chest or throat

When you have issues with swallowing medications, this is also a good sign that you should contact a doctor. There are an estimated 40% of American adults that struggle to swallow pills, or simply don’t like them; your doctor can prescribe alternative treatments.

Dysphagia and Pneumonia

There are serious cases where dysphagia can cause pneumonia. This happens when food particles enter the trachea accidentally. From there, the food enters the lungs and breaks down, which causes an infection. Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include:


        Chest pains.

        Having a gurgled voice when drinking or eating

        Breathing difficulties - wheezing, short breath, and shallow breathing

        Coughing while drinking and eating


If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, you should seek medical attention straight away.

Swallowing difficulties, medically known as dysphagia, can be caused by a range of conditions. There are techniques you can try at home to deal with mild swallowing issues, but you need to see a doctor when symptoms escalate; your dysphagia could point to a more serious underlying condition.

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