Understanding Swallowing Difficulties and Feeding Assessments

Speech Therapy


Swallowing difficulties, medically known as dysphagia, can be a challenging condition affecting individuals of all ages. If you or a loved one experiences symptoms such as coughing, throat clearing, breathing difficulty during feeding, or the sensation of food getting stuck in the throat, it’s crucial to seek professional help. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of swallowing assessments, how they are conducted, and the available instrumental assessments, with a focus on the Video Fluoroscopic Swallow Study (VFSS)

The Importance of Swallowing Assessments

If you suspect you have swallowing difficulties, the first step is to consult your doctor. They will likely refer you to a speech therapist for a swallow assessment. Swallowing assessments are essential for several reasons:

1. Accurate Diagnosis: A thorough assessment helps pinpoint the exact nature and severity of the swallowing difficulty, ensuring appropriate treatment recommendations.

2. Personalized Care: Based on the assessment results, a speech therapist can develop a tailored treatment plan, which may include food modifications, specific head positions, or exercises to strengthen swallowing muscles.

3. Safety: Identifying swallowing issues can prevent choking episodes and enhance safety during mealtimes, reducing stress for both individuals and their families.

How a Feeding Assessment is Conducted

During a feeding assessment, a speech therapist will evaluate your swallowing patterns in a clinical setting. Here’s an overview of what to expect:

1. Food Consistencies: You will be asked to consume various food consistencies to assess how well you manage different textures.

2. Monitoring: The speech therapist will closely monitor vital signs, breathing patterns, and voice quality throughout and after the feeding process.

Instrumental Swallow Assessments

In some cases, further instrumental assessments may be necessary to gain a more in-depth understanding of swallowing difficulties. One of the most commonly used instrumental assessments is called VFSS.

Video Fluoroscopic Swallow Study (VFSS): VFSS is a moving X-ray examination of the mouth and throat conducted while eating and drinking. During this test, you consume foods coated with Barium, allowing healthcare professionals to:

  • Observe whether food enters the airway instead of the esophagus.
  • · Assess the functioning of different parts of the mouth and throat during swallowing.
  • · Determine which food textures are safe for you to consume.
  • · Explore whether different head positions aid in safe eating and drinking.

Who Can Undergo a VFSS?

VFSS is a versatile assessment suitable for individuals from neonates to pediatrics. However, it’s essential to note that VFSS involves radiation exposure. Therefore, your doctor and speech therapist will carefully consider whether it’s appropriate for your specific situation.


Swallowing difficulties can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, making early diagnosis and intervention crucial. If you suspect swallowing issues, consult your doctor, and they can refer you for a swallow assessment. Through assessments like the Video Fluoroscopic Swallow Study (VFSS), healthcare professionals can provide personalized recommendations and improve the safety and enjoyment of mealtimes. Remember that your healthcare team is there to support you on your journey to better swallowing health.