Dysphagia is a common problem in children who have certain health conditions and is the medical term for swallowing difficulties. Below we look at six common causes of dysphagia in children, including why they cause dysphagia.
Being born prematurely can cause many problems, including difficulty swallowing. This is usually caught early on and may only be for a short amount of time until your child has had the time to grow and develop. Sometimes, premature babies will have issues with swallowing for the rest of their lives and in these cases, the doctors will discuss whether they need a gastrostomy, which is a feeding tube straight into their stomach.
A cleft palate or cleft lip can cause problems with swallowing, as your child may struggle anatomically with eating and swallowing. This is usually first spotted when your baby is finding it difficult to use a bottle for their milk. They may be extra sleepy after mealtimes or vomit more than other babies. This is often caused by swallowing too much air alongside their milk.
Overbite or Dental Issues
Dental issues, including an overbite, can make it harder for children to chew and swallow their foods. An overbite can also cause other dental issues and is stressful on the jaw, causing pain and discomfort. If your child has an overbite, you should take them to a dentist so they can get appropriate treatment. Sometimes, this involves surgery where their jaw is broken and put back into place.
GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, in the most severe cases, can cause dysphagia. This is because chronic reflux causes stomach acid to repeatedly irritate the esophagus and throat. This can eventually lead to scar tissue developing, which will narrow the esophagus, making it harder for your child to swallow. There are treatments available for GERD which can reduce the risk of dysphagia.
Developmental delay can cause a myriad of issues, including with the ability to swallow. Many children with developmental delays can still eat a range of soft foods and are put on a soft diet. To make it easier, they may be given a thickener. This means they can eat and drink normal foods, as long as a thickener is mixed with it. Products such as the SimplyThick thickener by SimplyThick allow you to make tasty drinks at home, which can be enjoyed by your child despite having dysphagia.
Certain types of cancer can cause dysphagia, especially ones relating to the throat, mouth, or voice box. Cancer treatment may also cause swelling or irritation in the throat, making it harder to swallow and chew foods. You can make this easier by giving them soft foods or cold foods which can also help with oral mucositis, another common side effect of cancer treatment.
If you think your child has dysphagia, you should take them to a doctor or speak to the healthcare professional in charge of their care. Left untreated, dysphagia can lead to other medical problems and cause discomfort for your child, especially if they are unable to verbalize this.