Swallowing Problems in Youngsters


Before you start to feed your child, take a moment to look, listen, and feel. You want to observe their skin color, the clarity of their eyes, the rate of their breathing and the quality of their sounds or respiration.

1. Gagging – although occasional gagging is not necessarily a bad thing, consistent gagging with feeding is often indicative that there may be a problem with starting the swallow.

2. Coughing – Much like gagging above, coughing once in awhile is perfectly normal, but persistent coughing is indicative of difficulty managing the swallow at the level of the airway. Small amounts of the swallowed material may be entering, or attempting to enter, the child’s airway causing them to cough. Now the cough may, in fact, be serving to clear the airway but the fact that this child has to cough to accomplish a safe swallow is of concern.

3. Tearing of the Eyes – Like you or me, if you swallow something the wrong way, your eyes are likely to become moist or tear.

4. Wet quality to voice – When food material enters the airway, it might rest upon the vocal cords causing a “gurgly” quality to the child’s breathing or vocalizations.

5. Increased rate or effort of breathing – If your child is having difficulty coordinating a suck-swallow while breathing, you might observe this by the amount of work he/she has to put into keeping a good oxygen level or when feeding is stopped, he/she appears to pant in an attempt to catch his/her breath.

6. Pale color of the skin – This child may need a brief break in feeding to keep his/her oxygen levels at a safe level.

7. Drooling – The presence of drooling or increased drooling is indicative of difficulty managing oral secretions or initiating a swallow.

A child who presents with any of these problems may be having swallowing problems. Please consult with your physician to consider consultation with a speech pathologist for evaluation of swallowing function.