Swallowing difficulties, or dysphagia, are more common than you might imagine. It’s more common as we get older, but around 13% of the population struggle with swallowing, or have a medically diagnosed swallowing disorder. Difficulty swallowing can have a big impact on your day-to-day life. You have to think more carefully about what you eat and drink, since eating and drinking can become very uncomfortable. But it’s also embarrassing. You might worry about eating out, choking in the middle of a meal, drooling, taking too long to eat, or not being able to find a food that you are comfortable with.
Trouble swallowing, however, shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of eating out or stop you from eating in restaurants with your friends. Yes, it might mean that you have to prepare and think more carefully, but you should still be able to enjoy dining out. Here are some tips to help you.
Planning ahead can take a lot of stress out of your evening out. Call the restaurant in advance and let them know. That way, your host on the night will know, and you might be able to make special requests and arrange to take your own food and drink without feeling as though you are making a fuss on the night.
Get to Know Your Body
Dysphagia isn’t a one size fits all issue. Two patients can have entirely different symptoms. Some people struggle to swallow anything. Others might struggle with specific foods. For some, it’s a constant battle, but other people find that their symptoms come and go and that some days they can swallow normally.
Get to know your body and how it responds to certain situations; for example, does stress exasperate your condition? Consider keeping a diary of symptoms to spot patterns in your diet. Having as much information as possible can make ordering food much easier.
Stress never makes things better. If you get stressed out and feel anxious, your mouth will become dry, your throat may close up, and swallowing will be harder than ever. Confide in the people eating with you, or make sure at least one person knows, and take your time. Eat slowly without worrying about holding other people up.
Practice Good Posture
Good posture won’t suddenly make your dysphagia go away. But, sitting straight can make things easier, giving food and drinks a straighter path and allowing you to take deep, calming breaths.
One of the best things about eating with company is the conversation. But for a dysphagia sufferer, this can make things much harder. Limit conversation to before and after meals.
Find Helpful Tools
There are a few things that you can do to reduce dysphagia symptoms and make eating out more comfortable. You might find a special straw or cup helpful, and an easy mix gel like Simply Thick can improve symptoms massively. Thickeners like these can be mixed with any drink, without changing the taste and can be bought in single-use packets, which is ideal for taking out and about with you.
Often, the key to enjoying eating out when you have difficulty swallowing is to keep trying. The more you ask for special meals at restaurants, the easier it becomes. The more often your friends eat with you, the better prepared and more helpful they become. Swallowing difficulties can be life-changing, but they certainly don’t have to stop you from enjoying your life.