Pediatric dysphagia is a disorder identified by a child’s difficulty with eating or swallowing foods and liquids. It can be caused by difficulty mobilizing the mouth, lips and tongue (oral dysphagia) or by difficulty with swallowing in the throat (pharyngeal dysphagia). It is important for children with swallowing problems of any kind see a pediatric gastroenterologist, as severe cases of dysphagia can lead to nutritional deficiencies, impaired growth and a higher risk of developing chronic illness.
Did you know…
that pediatric dysphagia is a relatively common problem? As many as 1 in 4 children develop some form of the condition at some point during infancy or childhood, though it is more common in children with pre-existing developmental problems. Instances of dysphagia and swallowing problems are steadily rising, perhaps due to greater survival rates among babies born prematurely or with complex medical conditions.
Dysphagia may be caused by one of many different conditions or illnesses, especially those that weaken the muscles and nerves used to eat and swallow. In children, this may be caused by premature birth or congenital defects like cleft palate or esophageal malformation. Some develop dysphagia as a result of other disorders like allergic esophagitis(Eosinophilic Esophagitis), gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or underlying neuromuscular diseases.
Your child may have dysphagia or swallowing problems if he or she has difficulty coordinating the sucking, swallowing and breathing mechanisms simultaneously while feeding from a bottle. Some children with dysphagia express irritability when eating or require longer than normal feeding times. Others may gag, choke, cough or aspirate when feeding. Older children often have a sensation of food being stuck when eating and frequently have to drink water during meals. Over time, children with swallowing problems may have difficulty gaining weight or begin naturally limiting or refusing foods or liquids.
If your child is diagnosed with a swallowing problem, conservative treatment may include therapies designed to improve coordination, develop better muscle strength, and decrease food and beverage aversions. It may also be necessary to change equipment used for feeding or modify the textures and consistency of foods and liquids for your child. Some children would require endoscopy to evaluate for mucosa disease such as GERD or allergic esophagitis. Dietary modifications or pharmacological intervention is often required to treat the problem. In some cases, children require greater medical interventions, such as feeding tubes, to ensure adequate nutrition until a child is able to consume foods and beverages without aspirating.