Pain or problems while swallowing can cause anxiety and stress and hamper your lifestyle. Medically called dysphagia, difficulty swallowing typically occurs in older patients and usually is not cause for alarm. However if problems swallowing persist more than a day or two or cause pain it’s best to schedule an appointment at one of our Minneapolis & St. Paul clinics.

Symptoms & Causes

Difficulty swallowing can arise from problems with numerous nerves and muscles in your mouth and throat. Brain damage, nerve damage, cancer, and stomach reflux can cause difficulty swallowing. Symptoms can include not being able to swallow, drooling, hoarseness, heartburn and severe coughing or gagging. Our physicians will best be able to pinpoint the underlying cause of your dysphagia and offer the best solution following thorough investigation into the cause of your swallowing problems.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The most common dysphagia evaluations we may ask you to undergo after an interview and physical exam are cineradiography, upper endoscopy and manometry. Each help your doctor find out exactly what part of your mouth and throat is causing your symptoms. Treatments for difficulty swallowing are ranging. Your doctor might simply recommend a speech or swallowing therapy with our Voice Center, while more severe cases could require surgery or prescription medication.

Follow these lifestyle habits to help with your difficulty of swallowing

  • Maintain adequate hydration by drinking at least eight (64 oz.) glasses of water each day. Juice, carbonated beverages, and other soft drinks are not substitutes for water. Try to maintain proper humidity in your home and workplace. Relative humidity of 40% or more is best for the vocal folds.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Monitor medications. Antihistamines and diuretics cause dryness.
  • Maintain an anti-reflux and heartburn regimen, if necessary. Event “silent” reflux can be damaging to the vocal folds.
  • Keep in good health, exercising regularly, but not too noisily or vigorously. Follow good nutrition guidelines and get adequate rest. Monitor your stress level. When you are run down, your voice can show it.
  • Do not smoke.


Preventing dysphagia is difficult because the causes are often neurological. However, to reduce the risk it’s best to eat slowly, chew food thoroughly and drink plenty of water.