Learning About the Diet for Swallowing Problems in Children

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What are swallowing problems?

Difficulty swallowing is also called dysphagia (say "dis-FAY-jee-uh"). It is most often a sign of a problem with your child's throat or esophagus. This is the tube that moves food and liquids from the back of the mouth to the stomach.

Trouble swallowing can occur when the muscles and nerves that move food through the throat and esophagus are not working right. To help your child swallow food, the doctor or speech therapist may advise a special dysphagia diet.

Why is a special diet important?

A dysphagia diet can help your child handle some problems that can occur when it's hard to swallow food and liquids easily. These problems can include:

  • Malnutrition. This means your child isn't getting enough healthy foods to keep his or her body working well.
  • Dehydration. This means your child isn't getting enough liquids to keep his or her body healthy.
  • Aspiration. This means that food, liquid, or saliva goes down the windpipe (trachea) into your child's lungs, instead of down the esophagus to the stomach. This can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which is an inflammation of the lungs.

What is the dysphagia diet?

In the dysphagia diet, you change the foods your child eats and the liquids your child drinks to make it easier to swallow them. You may:

  • Change the texture of the foods your child eats. The doctor or speech therapist may advise you to feed your child one of these types of foods:
    • Easy-to-chew foods. These are foods that are soft or tender.
    • Soft and bite-sized foods. These are soft foods that have been cut into small pieces.
    • Minced and moist foods. These are very soft, small, and moist lumps of food that need very little chewing.
    • Pureed foods. These are foods that have been blended smooth. The puree must be thick enough to hold its shape on a spoon. These foods don't need to be chewed.
    • Liquidized foods. These foods have been blended smooth but are not as thick as pureed foods. Your child can drink them from a cup.
  • Thicken the liquids your child drinks. The doctor or speech therapist will tell you what kind of thickener to use and how thick to make the liquids.
    • Slightly thick liquids. These are thicker than water but can flow through a straw.
    • Mildly thick liquids. These can be sipped from a cup but take some effort to drink with a straw.
    • Moderately thick liquids. These liquids are thick enough to drink from a cup or from a spoon. But they are hard to drink through a wide straw.
    • Extremely thick liquids. These are thick enough to hold their shape on a spoon. They are too thick to drink from a cup or suck through a straw.

The speech therapist will help your child learn certain exercises. These will train the mouth and throat muscles to work together so your child can swallow. Your child may also need to learn how to change positions or how to put food in the mouth to be able to swallow better.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.