Eating, Drinking and Swallowing (Dysphagia)
What is it?
Children can have difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing for a range of different reasons. The medical term for swallowing difficulties is dysphagia.
How does it affect children?
Some children with dysphagia may find it more difficult to swallow specific foods or certain textures, while others may have difficulties in swallowing all food and drink.
For some children this may be due to difficulties in coordinating their tongue, jaw and lip movements, while others may have more difficulties with their swallow.
Other children might have difficulties with the sensory qualities of certain foods.
Signs and symptoms
Other symptoms and signs of dysphagia include:
- Coughing or choking when eating and drinking.
- Vomiting or gagging while eating.
- Your child reporting that food feels stuck in the throat or chest.
- Persistent drooling.
- Difficulties in being able to chew food.
- A wet sounding voice when eating or drinking.
Over time dysphagia can lead to repeated chest infections as well as weight loss or difficulties being able to put on weight. This means it may be more difficult for a child to get the nutrients that they need to develop physically and mentally.
If a child finds it difficult to eat then they might find meal times a stressful experience.
Dysphagia is usually caused by other health conditions such as:
- Developmental or acquired brain injury such as a stroke, head injury or multiple sclerosis.
- Medical conditions such as cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome.
A child’s difficulties can be present from birth or they may develop as a child gets older.
If you are concerned about your child’s ability to be able to swallow safely, talk to your child’s GP or health visitor.
- Community Feeding – Surveillance Sheet
- Community Feeding Toolkit
- Your Initial Assessment for Eating, Drinking and Swallowing
Non-urgent advice: Learn more
For more information:
- Swallowing Problems (NHS)
Page last reviewed: 29 August, 2021