Swallowing difficulties after intubation

Dysphagia is the term used to describe a difficulty with chewing and swallowing food, drink and/or saliva. Dysphagia happens when the muscles we use for chewing and swallowing (lips, jaw, tongue, palate and throat muscles) become weak and difficult to move.

What is intubation?

Intubation is the insertion of a flexible plastic endotracheal tube (ETT) into your mouth and throat. This is usually placed when you are asleep or unconscious.

A pvc tube with wires and a suction pump.
Diagram of a patient being intubated with an endotracheal tube

What is the impact of intubation?

There is evidence that shows that by being intubated it can cause;

  • redness and swelling in your throat
  • reduced sensation in your throat
  • weakness of the muscles of the tongue, throat, and voice box
  • damage to your vocal cords; this is called dysphonia, so your voice may sound different
  • damage to your nerves that supply your voice box and swallowing muscles
  • a change to the co-ordination of your breath-swallow cycle when eating and drinking

One or all of the above could last for a few days, a few months or more permanently. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this. Your medical team and speech therapist will
advise you further on this.

All of the above can contribute to difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing, this can
include swallowing your own saliva.

What is aspiration?

Aspiration is the medical name for saliva, food and drink that ‘goes down the wrong way’. If aspiration occurs regularly it can cause an aspiration pneumonia—this is a very nasty chest infection and can make people very unwell.

Sign and symptoms of aspiration to look out for…

  • Coughing and a feeling of choking when you are swallowing food or drink
  • Feeling short of breath during or after mealtimes or drinks
  • Food or drink ‘going down the wrong way’
  • Feeling more ‘chesty’ or unwell
  • Feeling there is a lump stuck in your throat
  • Eating slower than usual
  • A wet or gurgly voice after eating or drinking
  • Food left in the mouth after a meal
Keeping Me Well logo

Help us improve Keeping Me Well!

We’re currently working to improve the Keeping Me Well website. If you’d like to help us make this site a better, more helpful experience for you, please take a few minutes to let us know what improvements you’d like to see.

Skip to content