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March 4, 2014, last updated March 1, 2015

By Susan M. Callahan,  Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of
our Editorial Board]

Many people experience trouble swallowing over the
course of their lives. The condition, known technically as
“dysphagia” affects up to 6 million Americans each year,  
according to a 2012 study from the Swallowing Research

When is having trouble swallowing a sign of something
serious? Are there any natural remedies that can help you
swallow more easily?

Causes of Dysphagia

If you are having difficulty swallowing, there can be a
number of causes and not all of them are serious. Simple
sore throats can of course make it more difficult for you to

Also, stroke and dementia risk increase as we age, and
these two disease are the most common causes of
dysphagia, according to a 2012 study from the Swallowing
Research Laboratory and the College of Public Health and
Health professions in Gainesville, Florida.  

The act of swallowing is actually a complex coordination of
muscles and nerves. Any loss of function in your mouth,
pharynx, larynx, or esophagus can make it difficult for you
to swallow.  If you develop a sore in your mouth or have a
cut on your tongue, if your throat becomes inflamed after
drinking liquid that is too hot or if you become hoarse after
singing in cold weather—any of these problems can
interfere with normal swallowing.

Here are common causes of difficulty in swallowing:

-Getting Older. As we age, more and more of us experience
difficulty in swallowing. Doctors attribute this to changes in
the muscles that facilitate swallowing and to nutritional
deficiencies. As we get older, we lose muscle mass
throughout our bodies, including the muscles that facilitate

-Cancer of the Throat
-Injury to Your Mouth, larynx (voice box), pharynx or
-Colds and Flu
-Dementia. Dementia not only affects the mind, it affects
how you swallow.

Less Common Causes of Swallowing Difficulty Include:

Neurologic disease :
Traumatic brain injury
Myasthenia gravis
Cerebral palsy
Guillain–Barré syndrome

Progressive Disease:

Parkinson’s disease
Huntington disease
Age-related changes
Rheumatoid disease
Progressive systemic sclerosis
Sjögren disease

Other :
Any tumor involving the aerodigestive tract
Iatrogenic diagnoses
Radiation therapy
Intubation tracheostomy
Medication related
Other, related diagnoses
Severe respiratory compromise

When Is Having Trouble Swallowing a Serious Problem?

The answer to this question is clear --always. Any difficulty  
trouble swallowing is a serious problem ---it  puts you at
risk for malnutrition and increased risk of pneumonia.

Generally speaking, if you are having trouble swallowing  
for more than 3 days, you should seek medical attention
because  difficulty swallowing can lead to malnutrition.
Swallowing difficulty should raise your alarms for another
reason --- risk of pneumonia.  

Think of proper swallowing as a smooth running freight
train whose main purpose is to deliver food safely from  the
external world, through your mouth, and into your
esophagus.  Impaired swallowing may mean that food is
not delivered into your esophagus and instead gets
delivered to the upper part of your lungs. Once food or
other matter enters your lungs, it can cause infection ,
which can lead to pneumonia.

This is a common danger with stroke victims. Here’s a
startling fact. Did you know that stroke itself actually is not
the leading cause of death related to stroke? No, the
leading cause of death after someone suffers a stroke is

About 35% of all stroke victims die of pneumonia caused
by the entry of food and other particles into their lungs
because of the impairment of their ability to swallow
caused by the stroke.

Here we have gathered from research studies the best
natural remedies to help you safely swallow again:

Practice Swallowing Rehab.  Swallowing
rehabilitation is the name scientists give to a therapy used
to improve swallowing among the elderly. But even if you
are not elderly, it can help you swallow more easily.

What is swallowing rehab? Swallowing rehab can involve
changing your posture to improve swallowing, changing
the type of food you eat to make it easier to swallow, or
even engaging in vocal exercises to tone up the muscles
you use when you swallow.

The remedies we recommend below can all be thought of
as a form of swallowing therapy.

Sing  to Build Up the Muscles of Your Throat and
Singing is more than just enjoyable –although the
sheer enjoyment is reason enough to sing everyday.
Singing also is one of the most thorough exercises you can
engage in to tone up your throat muscles and the muscles
of your mouth.

(Read more about how
singing can help improve your
health and even extend your life.)

Cure Dry Mouth to Help Swallowing. You need
sufficient moisture in your mouth to swallow properly. Over
time or because of health conditions, you may have
developed dry mouth.  Try these
natural remedies for dry
mouth to help you swallow better.

Treat Dementia Early to Avoid Swallowing Problems.
Dementia is a merciless disease. Not only does it affect your
ability to think but it affects the brain’s ability to help you
swallow, which in turn makes you more vulnerable to
malnutrition and pneumonia.

Up to 45% of all dementia patients suffer from swallowing
problems, according to a 1994 study led by Dr. J. Horner of
the Duke University Medical Center. Dementia is a complex
disease requiring medical attention but
these remedies can
support and complement traditional treatments in many

Keep Your Chin Down.  Poor swallowing can introduce
food into the lungs as we have discussed. You can help
your body to safely swallow by lowering your chin when
you eat.

Some studies, notably a 2008 study from Dr. Logemann
and other researchers from Northwestern University,
discovered that the chin down posture changes helped to
significantly reduce breathing in (aspiration) of food.

In all fairness, other studies have disagreed and found that
the chin-down method did not improve swallowing at all.

Thicken Up Liquids with Honey. The same Northwestern
study found that thickening liquids with honey helped even
more than the chin-down posture changes.

Thicken Up Liquids with Nectar. Nectar works about as
well as honey in reducing the breathing in of food caused
by swallowing difficulties, the Northwestern study found.

Swallowing safely is one of those seemingly unremarkable
things our remarkable bodies do each day. However, when
something interferes with our ability to swallow, we come
to appreciate just how complex – and essential –this
“unremarkable” feat is.  

Protect your body’s ability to swallow. Pay close attention
any change in your mouth or throat that interferes with

Notice if you cough more than usual or if “food goes down
the wrong pipe” more often than before. These are signs
that the intricate mechanisms if swallowing may be
impaired and it’s time to take action.

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