Why Are You Suddenly Struggling to Swallow?

Swallowing food should feel like the most natural thing in the world. You should not have to even think about it! So if you are suddenly struggling to swallow food, you might be a bit worried — and rightfully so. Some cause of dysphagia, which is the technical term for difficulty swallowing, are rather harmless, while others are not. Here are four possible explanations for your sudden struggles, some of which are neurological conditions.

Multiple Sclerosis

Trouble swallowing can be an early symptom of multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition in which the insulating outer coating of your nerves deteriorates. Other early symptoms of MS include changes in vision, muscle spasms, and weakness. Although there is no cure for MS, there are medications that can slow its progression and minimize symptoms like difficulty swallowing. Your doctor will probably refer you to a neurology specialist for diagnosis. 

A Stroke

A minor stroke can sometimes cause strange symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing. Especially if you are an older adult, it's a good idea to get checked for a stroke if your swallowing trouble came on suddenly. Even if you otherwise seem fine, your doctor may want to put you on medications or a modified diet to help prevent additional strokes.

Cold or Allergies

It is possible that your sinuses and throat tissues are swollen and irritated due to a cold, and that's making it tough to swallow. Mucous accumulation in the throat can also make your throat sticky, which makes swallowing tough. If you feel like you have a cold or allergies, take a decongestant or some allergy meds. Does that make swallowing easier? If so, you probably just have to wait for the illness to pass. Stick to liquids and soft foods in the meantime.

Oral and Esophageal Cancer

Sometimes oral and esophageal cancer can begin to affect the nerves and the muscles in your throat, leading to trouble swallowing. If you are a smoker or a heavy drinker, then you are at an increased risk for oral cancer, but anyone can develop it. Your doctor can look down your throat, and if they see any lesions, they will biopsy them to determine whether they are cancerous. Note that people who struggle to swallow due to cancer have often had the condition for some time. If you've experienced more minor symptoms, like burning in the throat or swelling in the mouth, tell your doctor about these other symptoms, too.