Going Down the Wrong Pipe – Am I Swallowing Right?

You’ve probably heard, ‘I’m okay, it just went down the wrong pipe,’ paired with coughing for the next few minutes. All of us have difficulty swallowing once in a while, but how do you know if your swallowing is appropriate or not? And why does it matter if you’re swallowing accurately? Keep reading to find out.

 

What are signs of problematic swallowing?

Coughing

As mentioned before, it is normal to cough once in a while when you swallow. However, if you are finding yourself coughing a lot when you eat or drink, this may be a sign that you are experiencing an irregular swallow.

Throat Clearing
Throat clearing after you take a sip of water or take a bite of food, can be a sign that you are not swallowing safely.

Gurgly Voice
If you notice that your voice is watery or gurgly after you swallow, this may indicate that food is not clearing out of your throat.

Pain When Swallowing
You should never feel pain when swallowing, unless you have a sore throat due to a cold or sickness. If you are experiencing abnormal pain when swallowing, this may indicate an irregular swallow or other problems in the throat.

 

*There are more signs and symptoms of an errored swallow than listed above. These are a few of many. Please see the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website for more information. https://www.asha.org/public/speech/swallowing/swallowing-disorders-in-adults/

 
Why does safe swallowing matter?

Food and water are supposed to go down the esophagus and into the stomach. However, when food ‘goes down the wrong pipe,’ it is entering the airway. This gives food and water the opportunity to get into the lungs. If food or water gets into the lungs, this can cause aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia can lead to hospitalization. If you believe that you are experiencing an abnormal swallow, see a Speech-Language Pathologist. Speech-Language Pathologists can identify if there is a problem and how to support a health, safe swallow.