Snacking, eating out or enjoying a home-cooked meal: all simple pleasures for most. It’s marvelous that the act of receiving nutrition is both essential for life and an enjoyable sensory experience for the majority of people.
Imagine, for a moment, that your regular eating ability was hindered by a health problem. Mealtimes change from being a time of relaxation and comfort to a time of stress and even hardship. Dysphagia patients face this reality every day.
What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a term that describes discomfort or difficulty swallowing. It can be a symptom of other medical conditions or may be a standalone condition. Dysphagia causes include stroke, throat and mouth cancer, GERD, and neurological disorders.
Swallowing trouble can occur at any phase of the physical process:
- Oral phase: sucking, chewing, and moving food or liquid into the throat
- Pharyngeal phase: starting the swallowing reflex, squeezing food down the throat and closing off the airway
- Esophageal phase: relaxing and tightening the openings at the top and bottom of the esophagus and squeezing food through the esophagus into the stomach
The condition radically impacts the quality of life of patients that have difficulty swallowing. Every time they eat, dysphagia patients are at high risk for coughing or choking on food. They might require supervision or special tools to assist with feeding.
Dysphagia treatment and tools
Thankfully, there are treatments available for people that have difficulty swallowing.
Swallowing therapy is a common form of Dysphagia therapy. A Speech Language Pathologist will meet with the patient and teach them new ways of swallowing properly. The therapist will teach the patient dysphagia treatment exercises to practice and improve how the muscles respond to food stimuli.
However, it can take time for those muscles to strengthen to the point of eating normally again. Until that point, are there other techniques that can be used to prevent coughing and choking while enjoying a meal?
In a review written by Karen Sheffler, Speech Language Pathologist at SwallowStudy.com, she noted that smaller sip volume can be a key factor in successful eating. Average sips of liquid are 25 mL for healthy men and 20 mL for healthy women. However, a person with swallowing difficulties might have a recommended sip size of 5 mL, significantly smaller than the average.
If the patient is used to taking an average sip size before Dysphagia hits, it is an incredibly hard habit to break. Muscle memory is powerful. It is not practical for someone to sit next to the patient all day and remind them to take small sips, yet it could be dangerous and potentially life-threatening if they do not.
As Karen goes on to write, the Bionix SafeStraw™ is exactly the type of tool that dysphagia patients need in order to limit the risk. The SafeStraw™ is a volume-limiting drinking aid that only allows the user to take a small amount (6.2 mL) of liquid into the mouth at a time. Karen found several benefits with the Bionix SafeStraw™.
- Liquid volume is consistent sip to sip
- Thin, so it fits into bottles with narrow tops
- Adaptable; you can cut any straw to attach a shorter straw to the top of the device. Shorter straw length can reduce sucking effort on the part of the patient.
- Multi-use device, so you save time and make less waste
Overall, Karen thinks that SafeStraw™ can “really have an impact on a patient’s safe hydration, quality of life [and] aspiration prevention.”
There are two products for fluids of various thicknesses: SafeStraw™ Drinking Aid for Thin Liquid, and a SafeStraw™ Drinking Aid for Thick Liquid, which is made for mildly-thick to nectar-thick liquids.
To purchase either SafeStraw™ product, visit the Bionix Health at Home website.
- Bionix SafeStraw™ Review: http://www.swallowstudy.com/?product=safestraw-by-bionix
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/swallowing/Swallowing-Disorders-in-Adults/#what_r
- Medical News Today’s Dysphagia Article: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/177473.php