Adult Swallowing

Swallowing Awareness Day

By Adult Swallowing, Uncategorised No Comments

Did you know that humans swallow between 500-700 times a day, around 3 times an hour when sleeping and once per minute while awake? Swallowing is a reflex that happens from infancy all the way through to the end of our lives. However, around 1 million Australians have difficulty swallowing (a condition known as dysphagia). Despite this high prevalence, the knowledge of dysphagia, including its cause and impact, are not known by much of the population. Swallowing Awareness Day is held each year on the 16th March and is a good opportunity to reflect on a reflex that we do not think about, until it becomes a problem.

For many of us, food is a vital part of our lives. We need to eat and drink to sustain our bodies, to provide us with energy and nutrients but also to celebrate important cultural events with our friends and families. Dysphagia impacts sufferers significantly and can lead to a person becoming malnourished or isolated due to the fear of choking or coughing while eating or drinking.

Dysphagia can cause difficulties with chewing (the oral phase), swallowing (the pharyngeal phase) or with food entering the stomach (the oesophageal phase). Speech Pathologists generally focus on the Oral and Pharyngeal phases however we are learning more and more about the interaction of the Oesophageal Phase on our swallowing, particularly the effect of reflux.

How Do I Know If I Need a Swallowing Assessment?

Swallowing difficulties can start at any stage of life and for a variety of reasons. If you experience any of the following, a swallowing assessment is recommended:

  • Recurrent chest infections
    • These can be caused by food or fluid entering your airways and becoming infected.
  • Choking incidents
    • These can be caused by food or fluid blocking your airways and can be traumatic.
  • Coughing when eating or drinking.
    • This can be caused by food or fluid entering your airways and is the body’s natural reaction to ejecting matter out of your lungs. This can be extremely unpleasant and embarrassing, particularly when eating in public or with friends.
    • Coughing can also be caused by reflux when eating or drinking.
  • Modifying your diet to avoid coughing or choking.
    • Have you had an incident previously and now avoid that food and all similar textures? It might be time for a swallowing assessment!
  • Unplanned weight loss.
    • You may not be receiving the right level of nutrition as a result of the above. You would benefit from a swallowing assessment and consultation with a Dietitian.

How We Can Help

Our primary goal at HDST is to allow you to continue eating and drinking the food and drinks that you love as safely as possible and for as long as possible. We do this by:

  • Assessing the function of your cranial nerves. We do this by observing movements of the muscles of your face and throat, also known as an Oral Motor Assessment.
  • Observing you while you eat and drink your own foods. This can happen at our clinic or at your home.
    • Sometimes, this assessment may not give us enough information about what is happening when you eat and drink. You will be referred onto a Speech Pathologist who works in a hospital for an instrumental assessment, known as a Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study.
  • Trialling strategies that may assist you in increasing the safety of your eating and drinking. This may include taking single sips of fluid, having smaller mouthfuls or keeping your chin down while swallowing.
  • Changing your environment. This may include turning off the TV and eliminating distractions.
  • Modifying your food and fluids. Sometimes, the above strategies may not be sufficient to allow you to keep eating and drinking safely and the texture of your food and fluids may need to be changed. We use this as a last resort at HDST and only recommend this in collaboration with you, your family and your doctor.

I Have Further Questions and Would Like Assistance

Feel free to get in touch with our clinic at any stage by visiting

Written for Swallowing Awareness Day 2023 by Caitlin Chaney

Dysphagia. A difficult diagnosis to swallow!

By Adult Swallowing No Comments

The average Australian swallows 500-700 times a day. That’s around three times an hour during sleep, once per minute while awake and even more during meals.

Most Australians are unaware how difficulty with swallowing can be frightening and life threatening. It’s why on Wednesday 16 March 2022, Hills District Speech Therapy is campaigning to promote Swallowing Awareness Day.

Swallowing Awareness Day 2022 is an opportunity to bring attention to swallowing disorders and to connect people with speech pathologists, the professionals who can help. Speech Pathologists assess and treat people with Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) – pronounced ‘dis-fay-juh’.

The theme for Swallowing Awareness Day in 2022 is: ‘Dysphagia. A difficult diagnosis to swallow!’

Around 15-30 per cent of people aged 65+ living in the community have a swallowing difficulty, with that figure rising to over 50 per cent for older Australians living in a nursing home. And after falls, choking is the second biggest killer of nursing home residents.

It is estimated around 1 million Australians have difficulty with swallowing. Swallowing disorders remain largely invisible, poorly understood by the general community, and rarely addressed in government policy.

Swallowing problems can mean food, drinks or saliva gets into the lungs (aspiration) and this can cause lung infections (pneumonia). Severe swallowing complications can lead to death, while other swallowing complications can lead to poor nutrition, dehydration, health complications, and social isolation.

The cost to affected individuals is measured in dollars through added health costs, limitations to their participation in the wider society, and in negative impacts on their social and emotional wellbeing. The cost to the wider community includes increased costs through longer hospital stay.

Australians with undiagnosed difficulties are frequently referred to other health practitioners — often for expensive and invasive investigations — when a speech pathologist could readily manage the problem.

A swallowing problem can occur at any stage of life. Swallowing is a skill developed from infancy.

Babies born prematurely or children with abnormalities with the structure of their head, neck and face, such as cleft lip or palate can have difficulty feeding. Both children and adults with developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Autism and Cerebral Palsy can also require support with mealtime management.

Additionally, almost half of everyone who has had a stroke will have a swallowing problem. Sixty-nine per cent of people with Parkinson’s disease will have swallowing difficulties, as will 25 per cent of patients with Multiple Sclerosis.

Swallowing Awareness Day is an opportunity for all of us to learn more about swallowing difficulties and how they impact on the lives of our friends, neighbours and our wider community.

As speech pathologists, we are the professionals who assess and manage dysphagia.

Further information about dysphagia is available at

If you think you or your loved one may benefit from a swallowing assessment, you can submit an enquiry via our website or calling 9054 1996 or search for additional Speech Therapy providers at

If your concerns are urgent or relating to an emergency, please contact your local hospital or 000.

Speech Pathology Australia is the national peak body representing more than 12,500 speech pathologists. The Association supports and regulates the ethical, clinical and professional standards of its members, as well as lobbying and advocating for access to services that benefit people with communication and swallowing difficulties.

Adapted from Speech Pathology Australia (2022) by Chloe Garrett & Tushar Prasad