What is Pediatric Dysphagia?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Dysphagia is the clinical name for any disorder that prevents proper swallowing of food, and pediatric dysphagia is the term used when these disorders strike young children or infants. The disorders that cause dysphagia could theoretically include anything from jaw problems that keep kids from chewing food to a problem with the reflex that allows for swallowing. Pediatric dysphagia can be particularly difficult to treat because young children may not understand verbal communication, which can make many therapies unworkable.

The symptoms of pediatric dysphagia will vary depending on the age of the children involved and the actual cause of the particular case. For example, some children may choke constantly on their food, while others may develop pneumonia when food particles go down the wrong way and land in their lungs. Many kids simply show a general displeasure when eating and may even refuse to eat anything at all. In some cases, the problems only show up when the children eat solid foods, but they might also happen when consuming liquids, depending on the cause.

When children suffer from pediatric dysphagia, it can often be difficult for parents to know what is going on. This is partly because young children are generally unable to explain what is happening to them. Many parents may simply think that their children are being picky about food, and they may not have any idea why their children are constantly getting pneumonia or choking.


Pediatric dysphagia can be caused by many different things, some of which are relatively mild, like soreness in the gums, which makes it painful for children to eat. Other causes include things like cleft palates or weak jaw muscles. Some children may have nerve damage that makes their swallowing reflex perform ineffectively, and these cases are often the most likely to cause choking and other severe symptoms.

If left undiagnosed and untreated, pediatric dysphagia can lead to many problems for children. Sometimes children may suffer from malnutrition because they are simply unwilling to eat. This can potentially be exacerbated if doctors can’t determine what is going on. The respiratory problems can also become a very serious issue, partly because pneumonia is particularly dangerous for young children.

For many cases of pediatric dysphagia, the treatment involves teaching the children to eat differently in terms of the way they use their facial and throat muscles. Sometimes this is impossible because the children are too young to understand what doctors want them to do. For this reason, the initial treatment may simply be changing to softer foods and then waiting until the children are older before teaching them compensation methods.


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