Since it’s normal to have occasional difficulties swallowing, such as when you have a sore throat, an accurate picture of dysphagia (the medical term for swallowing problems) is hard to determine. However, 1 in 25 adult Americans complain of dysphagia annually. The rate of occurrence also climbs with the age of patients.  

Swallowing difficulties can be a symptom of a wide range of conditions, and it can itself be a major issue when eating and nourishment are jeopardized or for the pain and discomfort that often accompanies it.

Though there are many causes behind dysphagia, today we’ll look at five of the most common causes. People of any age can experience difficulty swallowing, so if you or someone in your family experiences dysphagia, contact the experts at Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center for treatment.

Acid reflux

Medically known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic acid reflux is the most common cause of esophageal dysphagia, one of two categories of swallowing problems. This group of symptoms typically feels like food is stuck in your chest or at the base of your throat.

GERD can cause ulcers or strictures (narrowing of the esophagus), both of which can create physical barriers that make it more difficult to swallow. Some are more familiar with the term “heartburn,” though this is usually used for occasional episodes, and GERD refers to a chronic condition. The team at Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center has GERD treatment specialists.

Parkinson’s disease

One of several neurological conditions that can affect swallowing, Parkinson’s disease causes oropharyngeal dysphagia, where the issue is moving food from your mouth to your throat. This can cause gagging, coughing, or choking. Neurological damage, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy are other nerve-based reasons for oropharyngeal dysphagia.


Depending on where a tumor develops, cancer can cause either esophageal or oropharyngeal dysphagia. Tumors can develop in the throat, esophagus, or stomach, creating physical barriers that affect swallowing. In addition, cancer treatments, particularly radiation therapy, can also affect your ability to swallow, typically creating oropharyngeal disorders.

Thyroid problems

The thyroid gland, at the base of your neck below the Adam’s apple, can develop issues that cause it to enlarge. This can press on your esophagus, creating another obstacle to comfortable swallowing. 

Any condition that causes your thyroid to enlarge is called a goiter, and it affects women more often than men, though anyone can develop one. Thyroids can also develop nodules, solid or liquid-filled, and alone or in clusters.

Herpes simplex

Certain herpes simplex viruses can cause infections in the mouth or esophagus. Depending on the severity of the infection, swallowing can become difficult. Heart pain also tends to accompany herpes esophagitis, while herpes simplex labialis affects the mouth.

You can also develop swallowing difficulties as part of an allergic histamine reaction. Breathing may also be affected, so medical care is urgent if you suspect swallowing is connected to an allergy. Treating the underlying condition, when possible, often relieves dysphagia, and physical therapy can help those with neurological disorders to compensate.

As experts with all aspects of your throat and esophagus health, the team at Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center is ready to help you. Simply choose the most convenient of their five offices in southeast Michigan. You can call or request an appointment online using the handy tool. Book your personal consultation today.