Posts for: December, 2019
Just like breathing or blinking, swallowing is an involuntary habit that we don’t often think about; however, swallowing is an important part of everything from speaking and socializing to consuming delicious food. Unfortunately, there are disorders that can affect a person’s ability to swallow. A swallowing disorder can be uncomfortable and troublesome, and a visit to an otolaryngologist can give you the answers you’re looking for as to what’s going on.
Some people having pain when they swallow while others may have trouble swallowing certain foods or feel as if there is something stuck in their throat. As a result, they may have trouble getting the proper nutrients and calories they need. Swallowing disorders are more common as a person ages. Swallowing disorders usually fit into one of two categories: esophageal and oropharnygeal dysphagia.
People who often feel like they have something in their throats are often dealing with esophageal dysphagia as a result of:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
- Esophageal spasms
- Achalasia (esophageal sphincter dysfunction)
- Scar tissue of the esophagus
- Certain medications that can cause dry mouth
There are certain conditions that can also affect how the muscles in the throat function, which makes it more difficult to swallow food properly. Common causes include neurological disorders, nerve damage (spinal cord or brain injuries) and cancers of the head, neck, and throat.
Along with trouble swallowing, those with swallowing disorders may also experience:
- Coughing after swallowing
- The sensation of food being stuck in the throat
- Sore throat
- Chest discomfort
If you experience persistent issues swallowing or if you also experience vomiting, regurgitation, or unexpected weight loss along with swallowing difficulties then it’s time to see an otolaryngologist.
Diagnosing Swallowing Disorders
To determine the cause of a patient’s swallowing problems their ENT doctor will go through their medical history, ask questions about the symptoms they are experiencing and then perform a physical examination. Based on the patient’s answers, your doctor will then determine which testing is needed to make a diagnosis. Common diagnostic tests include:
- Esophageal muscle test (manometry)
- CT scan
- Dynamic swallowing study
- Barium esophagram
- 24-hour pH impedance (to evaluate acid reflux and regurgitation)
Treating Swallowing Disorders
As you can see from the list above, there are many conditions and causes that could result in swallowing disorders. Therefore, the treatment you receive will depend on the cause and severity of your symptoms. Your ENT specialist will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to reduce symptoms. With chronic conditions, your doctor will find ways to help you manage the underlying condition to make swallowing easier.
Contrary to what you might think, earwax is actually beneficial for protecting your ear from infection. It lubricates and keeps the ear canals clean of bacteria and dirt. Ears are typically self-cleaning, so you shouldn’t have to clean your ears regularly (and in some cases ever); however, sometimes your ears can use a little help. If you are dealing with an earwax blockage, or you are prone to blockages, you will most certainly want to turn to an otolaryngologist to find out the cause of these recurring blockages and ways to keep your ears clean.
Most people use cotton swabs when they clean their ears. The problem with this is that it often serves the opposite purpose, and just pushes the wax further into the ear canal. Using a cotton swab inside the ear can also lead to damage to the ear canal or eardrum. Again, if earwax buildup is a common problem for you this is something you should talk to your ENT doctor about. A simple rule to follow: Cotton swabs should be off limits for cleaning your ears.
Cleaning Your Ears at Home
If you are dealing with a blockage you may be able to remove the earwax yourself with these gentle measures. First, you will want to soften the wax. There are over-the-counter products with a special glycerin solution that can help to breakdown the wax. You can also choose to fill an eyedropper with baby oil or hydrogen peroxide and apply a couple of drops into the ear.
You will want to leave the oil in your ear for up to two days before squirting warm water into the ear canal using a rubber syringe. Again, this syringe can be found as part of an over-the-counter wax removal kit at your local drugstore. Once you have rinsed out the ear make sure to use a towel to dry the outer part of the ear only. If you are prone to ear infections you may want to use a blow dryer to gently dry the ear.
Since everyone’s ears are shaped a little differently this means that the cleaning method that works well for one person might not work as well for another. If you have excess buildup of earwax you may notice:
- Ear pain
- Fullness or ringing in the ears
- Muffled hearing
If you wear a hearing aid you may be prone to earwax buildup, so it’s important that you talk with your ENT doctor about ways to reduce your chances for developing impacted earwax. In some cases, doctors may recommend coming in every six months or once a year so they can remove excess earwax safely and effectively without causing damage to the ears.