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Birmingham, AL | ENT Specialists
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Swallowing and throat problems: how they are found and treated?

Swallowing & Throat Problems


Have you ever had the feeling of food getting stuck in your throat while eating? Do you have a habit of frequent throat-clearing? Or perhaps you even have choking spells, frequently late at night?

If you’ve experienced one of these situations, you’ve probably imagined the worst-case scenario: “Something is really wrong with me” or “I must have some horrible condition.”

Well, would you believe these types of scenarios are often related to swallowing disorders or voice problems? 

“Speech and swallowing are very complex and dynamic muscle activities that are often taken for granted,” according to ExcelENT’s Speech Pathologist Amy Schiwitz with ExcelENT, located in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. “What people imagine is a horrible problem that can be corrected by either simple repetitive treatments or minor surgeries to correct these issues.”

Swallowing problems

You will want to seek out assistance from a throat specialist if you are experiencing any of the following swallowing problems:

  • A feeling of food getting stuck
  • Coughing or choking while eating
  • Gurgling wet voice quality after swallowing food
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Inability to swallow

It is estimated that around 15 million Americans suffer from some type of swallowing problem.  

We realize that these swallowing problems can be scary, so we take your symptoms seriously. We will work hard to reassure our patients they are not alone! In most cases, swallowing problems are not serious. 

Voice issues

A voice specialist can help you when you are experiencing one of the following types of voice issues:

  • Trouble with the sound of your voice: 
    • Your voice cracks or breaks
    • Your voice cannot hit the highs and lows in your voice range anymore
    • Your vocal cords tire easily
    • Your voice sounds breathy, husky, or hoarse
  • Sensations in the throat, such as: 
    • A throat tickle, 
    • When your throat is dry, burns, aches, or is tight 
    • The feeling of a lump in the throat or a “frog in the throat”
    • Swallowing problems
    • Post-nasal dripping (nose fluids that drip down the throat)
  • Pain – dry, irritating cough; choking spells (often at night); ear or jaw pain
  • Other symptoms: difficulty breathing, frequent throat clearing, feeling of fullness in the neck muscles or glands in the throat, coughing up blood

If you are experiencing one of these types of issues, you are not alone. Approximately 7.5 million people in the United States have trouble using their voices, so it’s not as uncommon as you might think. A voice specialist knows exactly what to do to diagnose your exact problem and develop a treatment plan for you that will reduce or eliminate your voice issues.

How are swallowing problems and voice issues diagnosed?

The type of swallowing or voice issue you have is the determining factor in diagnosing the problem. Once our voice and throat specialist reaches this diagnosis, we can create a specialized treatment plan just for you.

We use some of the most state-of-the-art diagnostic procedures in the state of Alabama to determine the root cause of your issues. 

Swallowing problems and diagnostics

At ExcelENT, we use a very cool tool called the Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES). How it works: we place a very small endoscope in your nose, and Amy Pittman slips it down to the area just above your throat and larynx/upper airway. Using this tool, she gets the chance to time the speed and coordination of foods or liquids you swallow.

You’ll actually be awake for this straightforward procedure and will be in a seated position. Amy Pittman will spray your nose and throat with an anesthetic so you won’t even feel the endoscope going down. The process of slipping the endoscope down your throat is pretty fast. The test won’t even take more than an average of 20 minutes. Some patients report a feeling of mild discomfort or a gagging sensation, but the anesthetic usually prevents this.

She will probably give you something to swallow during this procedure. She will have you slightly change positions so that she can give you visual feedback on the problem. Her diagnosis is pretty fast after this procedure. You’ll likely know within the same appointment what the problem is.

Voice issues and diagnostics

As far as diagnosing voice and vocal issues, there are a variety of approaches that Amy will use to determine the origin of the issue you face. Here are just a few of the diagnostics that could make up the plan to discern the problem and develop a treatment plan:

  • Digital Strobe Voice Analyzer – this is where you speak into a microphone, and your voice then gets measured for different types of data we gather. 
  • Video stroboscopic evaluation – this is a painless endoscopic procedure that lets Amy look at your vocal cords from the inside and take a look at their motion and vibration when you speak. First, she will spray a numbing antiseptic in your nose and throat so you will not feel the scope. Then, she will insert the flexible scope through your nose and down to your vocal cords. That way, she can use the camera’s rapidly flashing light to see your vocal cords opening and closing in slow motion while you make different sounds as she instructs. The procedure only takes about a half-hour from start to finish, and it’s done right here in our offices. Patients sometimes report that the scope feels “weird,” but you won’t experience any pain because of the numbing antiseptic we use before the procedure.

So we’ve learned that I have a swallowing problem or a voice issue. So what’s next?

So with voice issues, we usually prescribe what we call “voice treatments.” When practiced enough over time, these are exercises that teach you to become aware of your vocal production. You can then exercise different ways of speaking to help your voice issue become minimized and eventually go away.

In much the same way as an athlete works out different muscle groups to excel at their sport of choice, you’ll actually be working out your larynx in the same kind of way! The duration and types of exercises will vary by patient and also from the kind of diagnosis you receive from the diagnostic procedures by which you were evaluated. Your result will be an improved way of “voicing” that doesn’t strain or cause undue stress on the vocal cords. 

Swallowing issues are treated based upon our findings from the FEES procedure you underwent. There could be a variety of different types of treatments for swallowing issues. For example, there might just be some foods that are triggering your swallowing problems and should be avoided in the future. Or maybe you’ll need to learn to position yourself differently while eating to prevent your swallowing issues. You may even need to avoid liquids with a certain thickness. There are many other potential remedies Amy might prescribe to assist you in overcoming your swallowing issues.

So now you know. Your swallowing and vocal issues don’t have to be a big, scary deal. With some simple diagnostic tests, evaluations from Amy and Dr. Davis, and prescribed treatments and exercises, you’ll have your swallowing and vocal issues resolved in no time at all!

Schedule a swallowing or vocal evaluation at ExcelENT of Alabama

Don’t put off making an appointment with ExcelENT’s Speech-Language Pathologist Amy Pittman if you are experiencing swallowing or voice problems. Together with Dr. Christopher Davis, Amy can diagnose your issue and get you back to normal in no time. Click here to schedule an appointment online, or call one of our caring office staff to discuss coming in at a time that’s best for you: 205-988-6858. 

We are centrally located in the Birmingham market in Vestavia Hills, and we treat all types of issues dealing with the ear, nose, and throat. Patients rave about our results, and our compassionate clinical staff will resolve your problems with the utmost care and professionalism. Reach out to us today! 

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