Difficulty Swallowing Symptoms

Difficulty swallowing, also called dysphagia, can be caused by many different diseases and conditions, in both children and adults.

Common symptoms of difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) which indicate a need for swallow study (evaluation) and dysphagia treatment if indicated, by a speech language pathologist may include the following:

1.) Trouble swallowing food

2.) Difficulty swallowing pills

3.) Coughing or choking while eating or drinking

4.) Food, pills, or liquids getting stuck in your throat or "coming back up"

5.) Wet/gurgly vocal quality when eating or drinking

6.) Clearing your throat frequently when eating or drinking

7.) Eyes watering when eating or drinking

8.) Change in skin tone when eating or drinking

9.) Becoming short of breath when eating or drinking

10.) Coughing or choking within one hour after meals

If you have any of the difficulty swallowing symptoms listed above, you should ask your physician for a referral to a speech language pathologist for a swallow test, also called a swallow study, barium swallow test, Modified Barium Swallow Study, or a Video Fluoroscopy Swallow Study. If your difficulty swallowing symptoms are obvious and mild, you may not need to have a barium swallow test. Your speech language pathologist may be able to assess your difficulty swallowing by observing you eat and drink and provide treatment for your swallowing disorder to resolve the problem with simple swallowing exercises. 

In more severe cases, it may be necessary for a patient to have a diet modification, such as thickened liquids, mechanical soft diet, pureed foods, and in some cases it may be recommended that a patient have a PEG tube inserted into the stomach. With treatment for swallowing disorders with dysphagia exercises, these modifications can be temporary in many cases. 


Jolie Parker, M.S.CCC-SLP received her Bachelor of Science in Communication Disorders from the University of Florida and then went on to receive her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology also from the University of Central Arkansas. She specializes in the treatment of people who have difficulty swallowing symptoms, such as having difficulty swallowing food, coughing or choking while eating, difficulty swallowing pills, and coughing or choking when drinking liquids. Many of her dysphagia patients have been on PEG tubes, mechanical soft diets, pureed diets, and/or thickened liquids and have returned to regular foods and liquids after completing dysphagia exercises with the ISO Swallowing Exercise Device, including CTAR (Chin Tuck Against Resistance) and JOAR (Jaw Opening Against Resistance) and other dysphagia exercises. Some patients who had PEG tubes and were not allowed to eat or drink anything for many months have been able to have the PEG tube removed after completing swallowing exercises with the ISO-SED. 

Jolie provides home therapy visits for adults and children with dysphagia in the central Florida area. She holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA), a state license from the Florida Department of Health, and has 20 years of experience in clinical settings, hospitals, nursing homes, and home health care. She is the author of the ASHA approved CEU course for speech language pathologists: Using the ISO Swallowing Exercise Device in Dysphagia Therapy.