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Feeding and swallowing problems in children

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

Feeding and swallowing problems in children, also known as dysphagia, can have a number of causes and can occur at any age. Children with dysphagia may have difficulty swallowing liquids, solids, or both, and may experience symptoms such as coughing, choking, or gagging during meals. Dysphagia can have serious consequences, as it can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and an increased risk of aspiration pneumonia. If your child is experiencing feeding or swallowing problems, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for an evaluation and appropriate treatment.

What is a common cause of swallowing problems in children?

There are many potential causes of swallowing problems in children, also known as dysphagia. Some common causes include:

  1. Structural problems: Children with structural abnormalities of the mouth, throat, or esophagus may have difficulty swallowing. These abnormalities may be present at birth or may develop later in life. Examples of structural abnormalities that can cause dysphagia include cleft palate, congenital abnormalities of the larynx or trachea, and esophageal strictures or rings.

  2. Developmental delays: Children with developmental delays or neurological disorders may have difficulty with the coordination and muscle control necessary for swallowing. Examples of conditions that can cause developmental delays include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism.

  3. Infections: Upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold, can cause swelling and inflammation in the throat, making it difficult to swallow.

  4. Allergies: Children with allergies may have difficulty swallowing due to swelling and inflammation in the throat.

  5. Acid reflux: Children with acid reflux may have difficulty swallowing due to the presence of stomach acid in the esophagus.

It is important to speak with a healthcare provider if your child is experiencing swallowing problems, as they can help determine the cause and recommend appropriate treatment options.

What is pediatric feeding disorder?

Pediatric feeding disorder, also known as feeding disorder of infancy or early childhood, is a condition in which a child has difficulty consuming enough food to meet their nutritional needs. Children with feeding disorders may have difficulty swallowing, may refuse to eat, or may have difficulty coordinating their swallowing and breathing during feeding. Children with feeding disorders may also experience a lack of appetite, difficulty coordinating sucking and swallowing, or difficulty chewing and swallowing solid foods.

There are several types of feeding disorders that can affect children, including:

  1. Oral motor dysfunction: This type of feeding disorder involves difficulties with the muscles and movements involved in sucking, chewing, and swallowing. Children with oral motor dysfunction may have difficulty coordinating these movements or may have weak muscles in the mouth and throat.

  2. Food selectivity: Children with food selectivity may refuse to eat certain textures, flavors, or types of food, which can make it difficult to meet their nutritional needs.

  3. Food aversion: Children with food aversion may refuse to eat due to negative experiences with food, such as choking or gagging. They may also have an irrational fear of certain foods or food-related activities.

Feeding disorders can have serious consequences, as they can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and an increased risk of aspiration pneumonia. If your child is experiencing feeding difficulties, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for an evaluation and appropriate treatment. Treatment may include dietary changes, medications, or speech therapy.


How is pediatric dysphagia diagnosed?

Pediatric dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing in children, can be diagnosed through a variety of methods. The specific diagnostic tests used may depend on the child's age, symptoms, and other factors.

Some common diagnostic tests for pediatric dysphagia include:

  1. Medical history and physical examination: The healthcare provider may ask about the child's medical history, including any previous swallowing difficulties or other medical conditions, and perform a physical examination to look for any abnormalities in the mouth, throat, or esophagus.

  2. Videofluoroscopy: This test uses a special x-ray machine to take a series of images of the child's mouth, throat, and esophagus as they swallow. The healthcare provider can then review the images to see how the child is swallowing and identify any problems.

  3. Fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES): This test uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera on the end (an endoscope) to examine the child's throat and larynx as they swallow.

  4. Barium swallow: This test involves the child drinking a liquid containing barium, a substance that shows up on x-rays. The healthcare provider can then use x-rays to see how the barium moves through the child's mouth, throat, and esophagus as they swallow.

  5. Other tests: Depending on the child's specific symptoms and needs, the healthcare provider may recommend other tests, such as pH monitoring to assess for acid reflux or a speech and language evaluation to assess for any communication or cognitive difficulties that may be affecting the child's swallowing.

It is important for children with dysphagia to receive timely and appropriate treatment in order to prevent complications and promote healthy growth and development. If you have concerns about your child's swallowing abilities, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for an evaluation and guidance.


Why would a child need feeding therapy?

A child may need feeding therapy for a variety of reasons, including difficulty swallowing, food selectivity, or difficulty coordinating sucking and swallowing. Children with developmental delays or neurological disorders may also benefit from feeding therapy to improve their muscle control and coordination.

Feeding therapy can help children with feeding disorders improve their ability to eat and drink safely and effectively. It may involve exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing, or the use of specialized equipment, such as a swallowing trainer or a compensatory technique. Feeding therapy may also involve working with a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure that the child is receiving adequate nutrition.

If your child is experiencing feeding difficulties, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for an evaluation and recommendation for feeding therapy. Treatment may also involve dietary changes or medications, depending on the specific needs of the child. It is important for children with feeding disorders to receive timely and appropriate treatment in order to prevent complications and promote healthy growth and development.


Get Help!

At Daffodil Health, we help kids by giving them speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy, and special education. Through our Home therapy program, we also show parents how to help their child from the comfort of their own home.


For more info: www.daffodilhealth.com


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