What is dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a term used when a child has difficulty swallowing. It can be caused for a wide variety of reasons.


Children with dysphagia usually have trouble eating enough to gain weight or grow properly. They may also have other symptoms, including:

  • eating slowly
  • gagging during feeding
  • drooling
  • spitting up or vomiting frequently
  • difficulty coordinating sucking and swallowing
  • discomfort in the throat or chest
  • chest congestion after eating or drinking
  • coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • voice sounds raspy after eating
  • tiredness or shortness of breath while eating or drinking
  • frequent respiratory infections
  • skin becoming blue or pale during feeding
  • sneezing after eating
  • food or liquids coming out of the nose during or after a feeding


Imaging tests are often used to help evaluate the mouth, throat, and esophagus. These tests may include:

  • Barium swallow/upper GI series. Your child drinks a small amount of a liquid containing barium, which coats the inside of organs so they will show up on an x-ray, and a series of x-rays are taken. The doctor can see what happens as your child swallows the fluid.
  • Endoscopy. This test uses a small, flexible tube with a light and a camera at the end to take pictures of the inside of the throat, the esophagus, and the stomach. Small tissue samples, called biopsies, can also be taken to look for problems.


Treatment for swallowing problems may depend on the cause of the problem.

Speech or occupational therapy can be helpful for some children to help make swallowing more effective. Therapists may also suggest techniques for feeding or types of foods to eat that may improve swallowing problems.

Learn more about Pediatric Gastroenterology services at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.

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