What is Dysphagia?

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What is Dysphagia?

What is Dysphagia? Dysphagia is a word derived from Greek. ‘Dys’ in greek means bad or disordered and ‘phag’ means eat. Thus literally, dysphagia means disorder in eating.

In medical language ‘Dysphagia’ is a term used to refer to ‘difficulty in swallowing’.  In the medical field, in a broader sense, dysphagia may refer to the sign, symptom or even the condition of ‘difficulty in eating’.



Thus dysphagia basically suggests difficulty in moving solids or liquids from mouth into the stomach. Such difficulty can be due to a lack of pharyngeal sensation or a different inadequacy of the swallowing mechanism.

Dysphagia should not be confused with other conditions like Odynophagia or Globus that too make swallowing difficult.  Odynophagia causes painful swallowing while Globus causes a sensation of a lump in the throat.

What happens if you do not treat dysphagia?

Sometimes, people may not be aware that they have dysphagia. This may delay or prevent proper diagnosis and treatment. A person having dysphagia may suffer from coughing while eating or coughing after eating or difficulty in swallowing.

If dysphagia is not treated, it may lead to pulmonary aspiration or aspiration pneumonia. This happens when food enters parts of respiratory system. Such food may carry bacteria into respiratory tract.


In some cases, dysphagia when not treated, may also lead to dehydration, malnutrition or renal failure.

Normally people cough and show signs of discomfort when food enters respiratory tract but some people neither  cough nor show any such outward symptoms. Some doctors call this ‘silent aspiration’.

What are different types of Dysphagia?

Dysphagia in humans can be broadly classified into 4 types as below.

Oropharyngeal dysphagia is normally associated with anamolies in muscles, nerves or structure of oral cavity, pharynx and upper esophageal sphincter.

Esophageal and obstructive dysphagia arises from a problem in the body of esophagus, lower esophageal sphincter or the cardia of the stomach. Such condition usually results from mechanical causes or mobility problems.

Neuromuscular symptom complexes.

Functional dysphagia is when a person suffers from dysphagia but a diagnosis fails to find anything that is causing the condition.

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What is aspiration pneumonia? What causes aspiration pneumonia?

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Aspiration pneumonia is one of the causes of coughing after eating.

As you eat your food, if you suspect the food entered into your lungs and not your stomach, that’s a problem. That can make you cough after you eat as the food in lungs obstructs your respiration.

There can be many reasons why food enters lungs and not stomach. These include poor oral health, alcoholism, dysphagia etc.

What is aspiration pneumonia?

Aspirate means inhale. When you aspirate food, drink or vomit into your lungs, it may lead to aspiration pneumonia. If you cannot cough up the food, drink or vomit that has entered your lungs, bacteria can develop on the food and cause aspiration pneumonia.

Aspiration pneumonia is an infection of lungs. When a large amount of food enters lungs, it leads to aspiration pneumonia. The food may enter lungs either from mouth or stomach. When food enters lungs and causes aspiration pneumonia, a person may develop fever and cough very rapidly. Though fever and cough after eating are common symptoms of aspiration pneumonia, sometimes it can lead to lung abscess.



Food entering lungs may not necessarily cause an an infection. But lung infection is very much possible with food in lungs as the food may contain a range of bacteria. This infection is aspiration pneumonia. But it is not the bacteria in food that causes aspiration pneumonia. Sometimes non-infectious but acidic food entering lungs can lead to a type of aspiration pneumonia known as chemical pneumonitis.

Aspiration pneumonia may present symptoms similar to other types of pneumonia such as bacterial pneumonia, fungal pneumonia, viral pneumonia or hospital acquired pneumonia. Due to this, it is not always easy to diagnose aspiration pneumonia.


What causes aspiration pneumonia?

Aspiration pneumonia is primarily caused by by food entering lungs instead of stomach. But what causes food to enter lungs? Some reasons why food enters lungs include the below.

In people suffering from dysphagia, there is always a risk of food from mouth or stomach entering into lungs. This is due to the fact that the swallowing mechanism does not work properly in people with dysphagia.

Some other health conditions like stroke, parkinson’s disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or advanced COPD can weaken your immune system and put you at risk of aspiration pneumonia.

Poor levels of consciousness may cause the swallowing mechanism to fail and allow food to pass into lungs.

Seizures, anesthasia, alcohol etc. can damage muscles that help you swallow and disable body’s natural mechanism to prevent food entering lungs.

If someone does not keep good oral health, bacteria can build up in mouth. Such poor oral hygiene can also lead to aspiration pneumonia.

If someone is older than 75 and has been in a care home or hospital for very long, they can get aspiration pneumonia easily.

There can be many other reasons for aspiration pneumonia. These include ethnicity, age, gender, malnutrition, side effects of medicines etc.

What are the symptoms of aspiration pneumonia?

If you are coughing for no reason with or without mucus, it may be aspiration pneumonia. You may cough after you eat if food you swallow enters lungs instead of stomach.

A strange change in voice can be experienced.

If your swallowing mechanism is damaged, you will find it difficult to swallow. Difficulty in swallowing may be an early sign of aspiration pneumonia.

If your lungs get infected after you aspire food, drink or vomit into lungs, you may have a fever. Fever is a common symptom of aspiration pneumonia.

The food or drink that’s stuck in your lungs can cause chest pain. Infected lungs can also cause pain in chest. So chest pain is another sign of aspiration pneumonia.

Poor alertness, lack of concentration, confusion and unable to think clearly are common experiences of people with aspiration pneumonia.

A person with aspiration pneumonia may lose appetite and lose weight.

Abnormal breathing is a common symptom of aspiration pneumonia. Breathing can become noisy and rapid. Sometimes the patient can feel shortness of breath.

How do you diagnose aspiration pneumonia?

If you suspect you have aspiration pneumonia, you must see your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor can diagnose your condition. Depending the severity of your symptoms, the doctor may do some examinations on you to diagnose your symptoms.

Diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia starts with a simple physical examination. Doctor may look into your mouth and throat and listen to your chest to begin with. Doctor may want to listen to your speech to look for any strange changes in your speech. Your body vitals like blood pressure, blood oxygen etc. also play a role in aspiration pneumonia diagnosis.

If your doctor feels it is necessary, you may need to go for a chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can reveal any chest infection, inflammation or fluid accumulation in your lungs.

You may need to get your mucus tested for bacteria. To conduct mucus test, doctor may ask you to collect your mucus or extract the mucus from your throat. They look for any bacteria in mucus that may cause aspiration pneumonia.

A blood test can reveal if you have an infection. If you have a chest infection that’s making you cough due to aspiration pneumonia, your blood test shows higher white blood cell count.

A neuro examination can reveal how your nervous system is impacted by aspiration pneumonia. Your memory, level of alertness, hand grip etc. are common factors that are observed during this test.

Sometimes, your doctor may want to observe your swallowing mechanism. You may need to swallow various food of different consistency and be observed to record how well you can swallow food.

How is aspiration pneumonia treated?

Aspiration pneumonia treatment involves a combination of techniques and medicines. Any treatment of aspiration pneumonia needs to be carried out only by a qualified doctor.

If you show signs of infection related to aspiration pneumonia, you may need some antibiotics to treat the infection.

If you are unable to breathe well if your air passages have shrunk due to aspiration pneumonia, you may need steroids. Steroids expand your air passages and help you breathe easier.

If your blood tests show lower oxygen levels, you may need to take some oxygen via a  mask.

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What not to eat when coughing? Foods that aggravate cough

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What not to eat when coughing is important to be clear about.

Cough by itself is very irritating, painful, annoying, tiring and can lead to sleepless nights. Various factors like cold, infection, pollution, allergy and side effects of medicines can trigger a cough. But, if any food you eat aggravates your cough, your condition can quickly become lot worse. So you need to know what not to eat when coughing and avoid foods that aggravate cough.

Let us see what not to eat when coughing.

What not to eat when coughing?

Not eating certain foods when coughing can help overcome infection, inflammation and allergy quickly. The following are some foods to avoid when coughing, as they are likely to aggravate cough, inflammation, irritation etc.on:



Dairy based food and drinks

If you are coughing or have an inflammation or infection in your respiratory tract, avoiding dairy based foods and drinks can help relieve your symptoms to some extent.

Why not to consume dairy based foods or drinks when coughing?

Researches have proved that consumption of milk and other dairy based foods and drinks triggers excess mucus production. Milk, when digested apparently stimulates mucus production in the digestive tract. Similarly milk and other dairy based foods and drinks trigger excess mucus in the respiratory tract too.

If you already have a cough, infection or inflammation, consumption of dairy based foods and drinks can produce even more mucus making your condition worse. Excess mucus thus produced can make your cough more severe.

Consumption of diary products may also make your mucus thick and stickier, making it difficult for you to expel mucus. So, experts advise us to avoid milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, cottage cheese and any other milk based foods and drinks when you have a cough.


So what not to eat when coughing? When you are coughing, avoid all milk based foods and drinks so you feel better. You need to avoid eating or drinking any dairy based foods or drinks when you have a cough or inflammation or infection of respiratory tract.

Foods that aggravate asthma and cough

Asthma makes you wheeze, breathless and leads severe cough at times. So if you suffer from cough due to asthma, you need to stop eating foods that aggravate your asthma.

How do I know which foods aggravate asthma or cough?

You can check with your doctor if your asthma is related to your diet. If yes, you need to avoid all foods that aggravate your asthma and cough. Examples of foods that can aggravate asthma include nuts, yeast, eggs, shellfish, fish and milk etc.

You need to maintain a diary of what you eat and how your asthma fluctuates as you eat different foods. Such food diary and analysis of cough symptoms can help you understand what not to eat when coughing.

Caffeine

When you have a cough, it is important that you keep yourself well hydrated. Water is the best drink when you are coughing.

If you have a chesty cough, you need to drink lots of fluids because you need your mucus thinned. You can easily expel the mucus easily when it is thin. Your chesty cough will come down when your mucus is thinned.

On the other hand when you have a dry cough, you may suffer from a dry throat and difficulty in swallowing. To heal dry throat, dry cough etc,. you need to drink lots of fluids. Many people say you can drink any fluids you wish but coffee is not very good to hydrate you.

Why is coffee bad for you when you are coughing?

Coffee makes you pass more urine. When you pass more urine, you may get dehydrated and your cough may become more difficult to treat. So you need to avoid coffee when you have a cough.

If you are coughing after eating due to GERD, acidity or acid reflux,, you need to stop consuming caffeine based food and drinks. If you drink a hot coffee, you may feel a temporary relief from cough for an instant. But consuming coffee loosens the esophageal sphincter which allows more acid and semi-digested food from stomach into esophagus. This aggravates cough due to GERD or acid reflux.

Alcohol

Consumption of alcohol aggravates dehydration. Dehydration in turn aggravates cough.

If you have a dry cough, dehydration makes your throat dry, itchy and you cough more. Dry throat makes you feel very uncomfortable and painful to drink or swallow. This discomfort may in turn aggravate your cough.

If you have a chesty cough, dehydration makes your mucus thick and sticky, you may feel stuffy and congested. This makes it difficult for you to expel your mucus. If you cannot expel your mucus, chesty cough persists.

So you need to avoid alcohol when you are coughing. Instead you need to drink lots of water to keep yourself well hydrated.

Processed and refined foods

Processed foods and refined foods are low in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre. So when you eat processed and refined foods like packaged snacks, white bread, white pasta etc. your body will not get the essential vitamins and minerals etc. Foods made from white sugar and white flour slow your body’s natural healing process by suppressing the immune system.

Why should you stop eating processed or refined foods when coughing?

When you are coughing, your body needs a strong immunity to infections etc. To build immunity, your body needs sufficient vitamins, minerals and fibre etc. You need to avoid processed and refined foods when you are coughing as they are very low in nutrients like vitamins and minerals. You need to eat more whole foods and green leafy vegetables when you are coughing as whole foods can get you more vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Sugar and sweets

Sugar and sugar based sweets lower your body’s immunity and you lose the ability to fight infections and inflammations. When you consume high sugar foods, at first your stress hormone levels get elevated due to adrenaline stress but soon you are depleted of these and feel adrenal fatigue. As low cortisol levels make you more susceptible to colds, coughs and infections, you need to avoid eating sugar and sweets when you are coughing.

You can go for honey and honey based sweets instead of sugar. Honey is a great natural remedy for cough so when you consume honey, your cough gets suppressed.

Cold foods

When you are suffering from a cold or cough, eating cold food or drinking cold drinks is not a good idea. Cold foods like ice creams and milk shakes make your cold and cough worse.

Generally cold foods and drinks dry out your respiratory lining and make you more susceptible to infections, inflammation and may trigger an irritation. So you must be avoiding cold foods and drinks when you are coughing.

Fried foods

Fried foods aggravate cough and digestive problems. If you are coughing, you need to avoid fried foods like french fries, chips, burgers etc. as such food may aggravate your cough and trigger digestive complications too.

Why should you avoid fried foods when coughing?

When you fry foods in hot oil, the process genrates an unsaturated aldehyde called acrolein. Acrolein is a colourless liquid with a piercing and acrid smell.

You might have noticed the typical smell when you heat cooking oil to its smoking point. This smell is caused by glycerol from the fat breaking down into acrolein when you heat the oil to smoking point.

Acrolein is an allergen that can lead to itching in throat and aggravate coughing. As fried foods contain excess acrolein, you need to avoid fried foods when you are coughing.

Mango, Banana, Citrus fruits and juices

Mango, banana, citrus fruits and juices have citric acid, aggravates throat irritation and cough. You need to avoid mango, banana, citrus fruits and juices when you are coughing.

Mango, banana and citrus fruits are very essential and healthy when you are not suffering from cold and cough. You just need to careful with such foods when you are coughing. Instead, you can go for other fruits high in water such as water melon, pine apple, pears, grapes etc.

Heavy or Late Dinner

If you are coughing after eating due to GERD or acid reflux, eating a heavy meal just before going to bed can make it worse. Eating a heavy meal makes it easier for semi-digested food and acids from stomach to re-enter the esophagus. This is more severe in people suffering from GERD because the esophageal sphincter muscle does not contract and relax properly when you have GERD.

To avoid any aggravation of coughing after eating, you need to avoid overeating at night and late dinners. You can have a smaller dinner around 2 hours before bed time.

Smoking

Smoking damages your respiratory system very badly. The damage that smoking causes to your body can start with a simple irritation in throat or dry cough and can eventually lead to bronchitis or cancer.

So if you are coughing for any reason, you need to avoid smoking if you want to recover quickly from your cough. If you are not a smoker, you need to stay away from smokers as passive smoking can be as bad for your health as smoking itself.

Foods that lower your immunity

Some common foods can lower your immunity or impair body’s natural healing ability or increase inflammation.

Examples of such foods include veal, hot dogs, donuts, ham, soda and energy drinks etc. So you need to avoid such foods when you are coughing.

If you continue to eat or drink foods that lower immunity or increase inflammation, your cough may get worse. Such foods may also aggravate GERD and acid reflux which in turn make your cough more severe.

Summary | What not to eat when coughing?

As you have seen above it really helps to know what not to eat when coughing. The above foods and drinks are just a few foods and drinks from what not to eat when coughing.

To know precisely what not to eat in your case, you need to check with your doctor. What not to eat when coughing may be different for different people. The above is a general opinion of what not to eat when coughing.

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Can food allergies cause coughing after eating?

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Can food allergies cause coughing? Yes. When you eat certain foods that you are allergic to, you may end up with a cough.

What is food allergy?

Food allergy is your body’s over reaction to certain foods which your body incorrectly sees as threat or harmful. When your body perceives an external substance or food as a danger, your immune system tries to defend and protect you.

When you eat foods you are allergic to, your immune system perceives the food as harmful and tries to fight. To defend you against the allegedly harmful substance, your immune system releases histamines. You start to show allergy symptoms when your body starts releasing histamines.



The primary function of body’s immune system is to fight infections and other dangers to health. Food allergy is when your immune system overreacts to a food incorrectly seeing it as a threat.

Food allergies can appear in people of any age but are more common in children. Some people develop allergy to foods later in life though they have eaten such foods well as children.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy? Is coughing a symptom of a food allergy?

Most of the times, food allergy symptoms are strikingly similar to cold symptoms. These include cough, sore throat, sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose etc. A food allergy can also cause itchy skin and eyes.


Food allergy symptoms can sometimes be mild but severe at other times. Sometimes food allergy symptoms can show up as mild initially but turn severe later on. It is hard to predict how severe can symptoms to a food allergy can be.

There is no solid evidence that food allergies are hereditary. In some cases, allergies appear to show up in various members of the same family. However it is not possible to predict an allergy in a future generation.

Can food allergies cause coughing?

Some times, eating a big piece of dried fruit such as dried papaya or dried pineapple can trigger a fit of dry cough. Dry cough after eating dried fruit can be caused by the specific fruit or a preservative used in the dried fruits.

Food allergies can cause problems with digestive system, skin, respiration etc. Common respiratory problems a food allergy can cause include cough, wheeze, stuffy nose, runny nose, itchy nose, sneezing or extreme difficulty in breathing.

Most common food allergens include

  • Dairy like milk, cheese cream
  • Sea food like fish or shellfish
  • Nuts like peanuts, tree nuts
  • Mustard seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Wheat
  • Eggs
  • Soy

If you suspect you have food allergy and keep coughing when you eat certain foods, you need to consult your doctor for a detailed examination. Your doctor may refer you to an allergy immunologist or specialist who can identify any allergies you may have.

To avoid allergic cough, you need to avoid eating foods that you may be allergic to. If you continue to eat food that you are allergic to, you risk having a range of allergic reactions some mild and some very severe. The most adverse reaction a food allergy can cause is anaphylaxis.

What is anaphylaxis?

Allergy can sometimes lead to anaphylaxis which can be life threatening. Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction. Common foods that trigger anaphylaxis include nuts and seafood.

Anaphylaxis  symptoms include the below:

  • flushed skin
  • hives or nettled rash
  • feeling low
  • swollen throat or mouth
  • impaired speech
  • asthma attack
  • swallowing difficulty
  • nausea with stomach pain
  • low blood pressure
  • breathing difficulty

These symptoms can appear within few minutes or hours after eating the food you are allergic to.

Sometimes a food allergy can produce symptoms similar to a cold or sinusitis. These include runny nose, blocked nose, sneezing or coughing etc. A cold is generally caused by a virus and a sinus infection is caused bya bacteria. It is interesting to notice how virus, bacteria and food allergy can cause similar symptoms.

Virus | Bacteria | Food Allergy

Unlike cold symptoms, mild allergy symptoms normally fade away when you stop eating the food you are allergic to. However sometimes allergic reactions to foods can be severe and may require immediate medical attention.

Though allergy can cause symptoms similar to a cold, allergy not contagious whereas a cold be highly contagious. If you have a food allergy you may be more prone to catch a cold than others.

As cold symptoms are caused by a virus, no medicine can treat a cold though some medicines can help alleviate cold symptoms. However, allergy can be treated with medicines. Most common medicine to treat allergy is antihistamine. Antihistamines block histamine reactions and prevent you from showing any allergy symptoms.

Sometimes doctors advise use of a decongestsant when a person suffers severe congestion due an allergic food. Saline sprays and humidifiers can also help alleviate allergic congestion after eating.

A sinus infection caused by bacteria can sometimes produce symptoms similar to a cold or allergic reaction to food. A doctor can establish if your symptoms are from bacterial infection. If the doctor confirms you have a infected sinus he may offer some antibiotics to treat bacterial infection. Antibiotics cannot heal cold or allergic reaction though.

Food allergy | GERD or acid reflux

Food allergy can cause coughing after eating just like acid reflux makes you cough after you eat.

Acid reflux makes you cough after you eat because semi digested food enters your esophagus. Food allergy makes you cough after you eat because your body’s immune system produces histamine when you eat an allergen.

The mechanism of cough due to food allergy is different from acid reflux or GERD cough.

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Do You need to see a Doctor if You have an Allergy?

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Do You need to see a Doctor if You have an Allergy?

Do You need to see a Doctor if You have an Allergy?
Do You need to see a Doctor if You have an Allergy?

Copyright Coughing After Eating

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