Swallow Awareness Day – Raising Awareness of Swallowing Difficulties and the People who Help Treat Them

Written by Huw Irranca-Davies MS

Have you ever stopped to appreciate the simple act of sharing a meal or drink with loved ones? It’s something most of us do without a second thought. But for many people, this everyday experience becomes a challenge.

The annual ‘Swallow Awareness Day’ held in March reminds us that eating, drinking, and swallowing difficulties are common, and they often occur with other health conditions such as following a stroke, or a diagnosis of Parkinsons or Dementia. Swallowing difficulties or Dysphagia, to use the medical term, can affect people at every age and stage of life from new-born babies to people nearing the end of life.

Some of the signs and symptoms of eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties are food getting stuck in the throat, difficulty chewing or controlling food or fluids in the mouth, recurrent chest infections or pneumonia, food or drink coming out of the nose when swallowing and anxiety when eating, drinking, or swallowing.

Eating, drinking, and swallowing difficulties can lead to poorer quality of life for individuals and their families due to embarrassment and lack of enjoyment of food. Dysphagia can also have potentially life-threatening consequences. It can result in choking, pneumonia, chest infections, dehydration and malnutrition resulting in avoidable hospital admission and in some cases sadly, death.

Speech and language therapists have a unique role to play in the assessment, diagnosis, and management of swallowing difficulties.  I recently visited speech and language therapists at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend to learn more about their work in this area and was struck by their expertise and compassion.  They explained the far-reaching breadth of their work from speech and language therapy, mental health work, working with patients whose swallowing is affected and much more.

I was also pleased to attend a ‘Swallowing Café’ at the Senedd which was hosted by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists Wales in conjunction with the Senedd catering team where we learned first-hand the impact of eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties and the vital role of the therapists in supporting people to live well.

We pay tribute to all the professionals who dedicate themselves to helping those with communication, eating and swallowing rehabilitation.  These include speech and language therapists, especially the RCSLT Wales Team for the work they do, and I thank them for their warm welcome.

There’s much more to be done to support and protect these essential support services so they can continue their important work reaching people from all walks of life and across various stages of life.