Don’t Let Dysphagia Disrupt Your Holidays!

The holiday season is a time for family and friends to come together, share a meal, and reflect on what we are thankful for. This year especially, we all deserve to have a happy and healthy holiday season! Unfortunately, it’s not easy to participate in all the holiday cheer when you are concerned about difficulties eating and swallowing. Do not fret! Here are some important facts and tips you should know to help you safely enjoy your holiday meal.

 What is Dysphagia?

  • Dysphagia is a disorder of swallowing than can affect the oral cavity, pharynx, and/or esophagus.
  • A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) is skilled in dysphagia evaluation and treatment.
  • Changes in swallowing function may not always be related to an underlying disease process but can be a part of the typical aging process in otherwise healthy adults.

 How common is Dysphagia?

  • Each year, one in 25 adults will experience a swallowing problem in the United States.

 Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia:

  • Throat clearing, coughing, or choking during or after eating and/or drinking
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Wet vocal quality during or after eating and/or drinking
  • Requiring more time or effort to eat or drink
  • Painful swallowing
  • Loss of food/liquid from the mouth when eating and/or drinking
  • Difficulty chewing and preparing food to be swallowed
  • Food residue in the mouth after eating
  • Sour taste in the morning
  • Feeling as if something is stuck in the throat or esophagus
  • Vomiting during or after eating and/or drinking
  • Watery eyes or runny nose while eating and/or drinking

 What do I do now?

  1. Talk to your physician about your concerns with swallowing.
  2. Your physician will refer you to an SLP.
  3. You will be referred for either a clinical dysphagia evaluation (bedside evaluation) and/or an instrumental swallowing evaluation (swallowing study).

 What to expect for a clinical dysphagia evaluation?

  • Patient interview: answer specific questions about diet and swallowing difficulties.
  • Oral mechanism exam: complete various movements of the mouth and face to assess structure and function.
  • Swallowing evaluation: eat and drink various food and liquid consistencies while the SLP observes swallowing function.
  • During a clinical dysphagia evaluation, information is obtained based upon clinical observations only.  Therefore, an instrumental swallowing evaluation may be needed to obtain more information if concerns are observed.

 What to expect for an instrumental swallowing evaluation?

  • Instrumental evaluations are beneficial so SLPs can visualize what is happening during the swallow.
  • Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS): swallow barium-infused food and liquid during a video x-ray; an SLP and radiologist will interpret the images of your mouth, throat, and esophagus while you swallow.
    • You will be seated and awake during this approximately 15-minute procedure. Radiation exposure is minimal and usually under five minutes. A minor side effect may be constipation.
  • Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES): A thin, flexible camera will be passed through the nose to view parts of the throat and vocal cords as you swallow and/or speak.
    • You will be seated and awake during this approximately 20-minute procedure.  A topical anesthetic is often administered, but you may experience minimal discomfort.
  • The SLP will provide diet recommendations for liquid and solid consistencies, and specific swallowing strategies will be reviewed following the assessment.  Furthermore, swallowing therapy may be recommended.

 General Strategies and Tips for Safe Swallowing this Holiday Season:

  • If you received specific strategies and recommendations following an evaluation, be sure to follow those guidelines consistently!
  • Add more gravy to the Thanksgiving meal if moist foods are safer to swallow
  • Cut up turkey and pumpkin pie into smaller pieces
  • Take a sip of water in between bites
  • Sit upright when eating at the table
  • Remain upright for at least 30 minutes after meals instead of laying down
  • Give yourself a break before getting your second plate of food
  • Remain focused on carefully chewing and swallowing before joining the conversation
  • Caregivers: be sure to monitor your loved ones and help implement these strategies throughout the meal! 

If swallowing is a concern, please speak to your physician and contact our office below. We wish you a safe and healthy holiday season!


Phone Number: (813) 974-9844

Fax Number: (813) 905-8928


 Kelli Gorajec, MA, CCC-SLP | Natalie Stasch, BS | Anna Isabel Villarta, BA

 References and Suggested Resources: