Treatments for Dysphagia in Children

Speech or occupational therapy can be helpful for some children. These therapists can give your child exercises to help make swallowing more effective, or suggest techniques for feeding that may help improve swallowing problems.

Infants and children with dysphagia are often able to swallow thick fluids and soft foods (such as baby foods or pureed foods) better than thin liquids. Some infants who had trouble swallowing formula will do better when they are old enough to eat baby foods.

How can I care for my baby or child after diagnosis?

  • With a baby, try adding a small amount of rice cereal to infant formula. Pumped breast milk may also help dysphagia. Blending the formula/cereal mixture before adding it to a baby bottle can remove the lumps and make the mixture easier to suck through a nipple, as well as easier to swallow.

  • We do not advise cutting additional holes in nipples, since this can increase the risk for choking and aspiration, as well as interfere with the baby's oral development. Future feeding and speech skills may be affected.

  • Baby foods should not be offered to infants from a spoon until they are at least 4 months old, since they do not have the proper coordination to swallow foods from a spoon until this age.

  • Your child's speech or occupational therapist may be able to recommend other commercial products that help thicken liquids and make them easier to swallow.

Your baby or child may also benefit from exercises and activities that desensitize them to having objects in their mouths.

  • Provide safe toys and other objects for babies to chew on and mouth. Try things that have varying textures and temperatures.

  • Vary the taste, texture, and temperature of soft foods for children over the age of 4 months.

  • Allow your child to play with foods and get messy at mealtime.

What if my child also has gastro-esophageal reflux disease?

If your child also has symptoms of GERD along with dysphagia, treating this condition may produce improvements in your child's ability to swallow. As the esophagus and throat are less irritated by acid reflux, their function may improve. Treatment of your child's GERD may include:

  • remaining upright for at least an hour after eating
  • medications to decrease stomach acid production
  • medications to help food move through the digestive tract faster
  • an operation to help keep food and acid in the stomach (fundoplication)

What is my child's long-term outlook?

For many children the course of treatment will help them learn to eat and drink successfully. If your child has other serious medical problems, especially those that affect the nerves and muscles (such as muscular dystrophy or brain injury), she may not be able to experience much improvement with her swallowing.