Who can help? (Children)

Reasons for eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties in children.

In children difficulties eating, drinking and swallowing effectively may occur due to a number of reasons:

  • Before swallowing: difficulties preparing the food or fluid in the mouth (oral phase of the swallow)
  • During swallowing: Moving the food or fluid from the mouth to the throat in order to swallow (pharyngeal stage of the swallow) or
  • After swallowing: when the food / fluid moves from the throat into the stomach (oesophageal stage of the swallow).

Difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing in babies and children can happen for a number of reasons:

  • A problem which affects the physical action of eating drinking ands such as children born with cleft lip and/or palate, cerebral palsy or dyspraxia.
  • A problem associated with a particular syndrome such as downs syndrome, rhetts etc.
  • Children who have a learning disability.
  • Babies who have a history of respiratory (breathing,) cardiac (heart) problems, poor weight gain and /or weight loss.
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

A number of serious health risks may be associated with eating, drinking & swallowing difficulties in children, including:

  • An increased risk of aspiration where food / fluid goes the wrong way and enters the lungs. This can cause chest infections, lung damage and aspiration pneumonia.
  • An increased risk of choking which can be fatal.
  • If children with dysphagia are not eating enough, they may not get the essential nutrients they need for their physical and mental development and this can lead to weight loss and dehydration.
  • Children who have difficulty eating may find meal times stressful, which can lead to behavioural problems and, in some cases, a refusal to eat/ drink.

The NHSCT Children’s Speech and Language Therapy service operates an open referral policy for hospital and community settings. If you have concerns about your child’s eating, drinking and swallowing skills you can speak to your doctor or health visitor or you can also contact the SLT department directly to discuss your concerns.

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