The Normal Swallow

On average you swallow 580 times a day in order to eat, drink and manage saliva. The swallowing process actually starts before the food or drink enters your mouth, and ends with food and fluids arriving in the stomach.

  • You bring food and drink towards and then into your mouth. Saliva is produced as a response to the sight, smell and taste of food. The lips and jaw close to seal the mouth.
  • The tongue moves the food between the teeth where it is chewed and mixed with saliva and then formed into a ball (bolus). The tongue then pushes the food ball to the back of the mouth into the pharynx.
  • The food passes via the pharynx into the oesophagus (food pipe from the mouth to the stomach). The epiglottis acts like a lid to close off the airway and prevent any food or liquid going the wrong way. The bolus passes down the oesophagus into the stomach.
  • Things can go wrong at any stage of the swallowing process and problems may involve just one, or a combination of stages.

If you need your swallow to be checked while you are inpatient, or if food and drink seem to be going down the wrong way, the doctors can refer you to Speech and Language Therapy, who will come and see you on the Ward.

Top tips for safer swallowing if you are having difficulty:

  • Choose foods and drinks that are comfortable to swallow
  • Softer foods are often easier
  • Sit upright to eat and drink
  • Stay upright for 40-60 minutes after eating and drinking
  • Take small mouthfuls, one at a time
  • Make sure you have swallowed all the food and drink before the next mouthful
  • Liquid medications may be easier to swallow if they are available (consult pharmacy)
  • Try to eat and drink when you are not tired
  • Alternate food with sips of water/drinks to help clear the food
  • Avoid drinking with a straw as this means fluids are directed straight to the back of the mouth before the airway is properly protected.