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Feeding aged care residents

Swallowing and COPD

People who have respiratory conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) face a number of difficulties. One common but not often discussed difficulty is with swallowing or ‘dysphagia’.

Why might swallowing be a problem?

Swallowing is a fast and complex process which involves the careful coordination of breathing and the temporary closing off of the airways. If your body requires extra effort to breathe and cannot handle that pause in breathing, this coordination of breathing and swallowing can become impaired. This can put you at risk of inhaling food or drink, leading it to ‘go down the wrong way’ (aspiration). Aspiration of food and drink can become increasingly common in COPD as the disease progresses and may lead to an increased risk of choking, or developing chest infections and pneumonia.

How do I know I am having trouble with my swallowing?

You may have difficulties with your swallowing if you notice:

  • Difficulties managing and coordinating food and fluids in the mouth
  • Increased time/difficulty chewing dry or chewy foods.
  • Sensation of food and drink getting stuck in the throat
  • Coughing or choking during eating and drinking
  • Increased shortness of breath during or after eating and drinking

What does a Speech Pathologist do?

Speech Pathologists are involved in the assessment and management of swallowing disorders. They can help you determine what food and drink textures are the safest for you, and recommend strategies to help if you are experiencing any difficulties.

Strategies to help with swallowing:

Please also see a Speech Pathologist if you have any concerns about your swallowing.

  • Sit fully upright
  • Avoid eating and drinking if you are particularly short of breath
  • Avoid or reduce exercise or intense physical activity before and during meal times
  • Take one mouthful of food or drink at a time
  • Allow plenty of time when eating or drinking and don’t rush
  • Have smaller, more frequent meals rather than three large meals