Swallowing Disorders

This page contains important information about swallowing that may be helpful for patients with dysphagia and their families. Read below to learn about swallowing and how THICK & EASY® has been helping to solve dysphagia problems since 1988.

Imagine never being able to eat your favorite foods. Never again enjoying a chicken dinner, a hot dog... or even that first cup of coffee in the morning. That is what 8 to 10 million people face each year; people who suffer from some degree of swallowing impairment, or dysphagia. It affects 18% to 22% of all people in long-term care facilities... and many people being cared for at home. For people suffering from stroke, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and many other illnesses, the effects can be devastating, emotionally and nutritionally. And when a patient stops eating, or eats food not properly prepared it can even be life threatening.

To fully understand the importance of thickening foods for people with swallowing disorders, it is important to understand how swallowing works. Why isn't simply pureeing foods enough?

The Normal Swallow

The normal swallow consists of three stages. During the initial or oral stage of the swallow, the food is prepared through chewing and shaped into a bolus. The passage of the bolus over the base of the tongue begins the second, or pharyngeal, stage of the swallow. During this phase, the bolus passes through the pharynx, and on to the entrance of the esophagus. During the third, or esophageal stage, the bolus passes through the esophagus.

The normal swallow is a complex and dynamic process. This rapid and efficient process takes less than 2 seconds. During this brief time period, the airway is closed and protected, while the entry to the esophagus is open.

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a difficulty in swallowing.Impairment may occur in any stage of the swallow. Dysphagia may involve only one stage, or a combination of stages of the swallow, and it increases the risk of aspiration (food and/or liquid entering the lungs rather tan the esophagus). Aspiration increases the chances of pneumonia. Dysphagia may be related to a wide range of neurological disorders, to tumors in the head and neck or to other medical conditions.

Just as there are wide ranges of causes, there are also wide ranges of treatments. These include changes in positioning, modifications in the consistencies of foods and liquids, and techniques that alter the way a person swallows.

If your physician and/or speech language pathologist recommends a change in the consistencies of food and liquid, it is very important to carefully follow their recommendations. Your physician or speech pathologist may recommend that food be pureed to create pudding-like consistency. Without a thickening agent, the food pulp and the liquid separate in the pureeing process. For example, if fruits and pureed and allowed to sit at room temperature, the juice weeps, or separates. This creates a mix of consistencies, which is especially difficult for the person with dysphagia to handle or control, increasing the risk of aspiration. In addition, pureed foods appear formless and unappetizing. This is often discouraging for the person with dysphagia. It does nothing to enhance the mealtime experience, or even to provide an incentive for the patient to try to develop a rehabilitated swallow.

THICK & EASY® : Making Swallowing Easier

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Hormel Health Labs developed THICK & EASY® Instant Food Thickener, NutraThik™, and Shape & Serve™ to address these critical needs. THICK & EASY® food thickeners and NutraThik™ are agglomerated, modified food starch that mixes easily with any type of pure food or liquid without lumping. THICK & EASY® products will not over-thicken, nor will it add any flavor or taste to the food.

In addition, THICK & EASY® products are freeze-thaw stable, so that it can be added to pureed foods, frozen, and then reheated without losing any consistency.

THICK & EASY® products convert foods from an applesauce consistency to a mashed potato consistency, and thickens liquids from a thin consistency all the way to spoon-thick. It also greatly expands the types of pureed food, which can be served to patients with swallowing problems.

THICK & EASY® : Why it works

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Foods that have been thickened with THICK & EASY® products accomplish two significant things, which help swallowing-impaired patients. First, in being converted to a mashed potato consistency, the food becomes dense and cohesive, which eliminates the problem of thin pureed food running down the throat and into the lungs. Since THICK & EASY® products binds all of liquid in the pureed foods with the food pulp, the risk of unbound liquid running down the throat is virtually eliminated.

Second, THICK & EASY® products add height and texture to pureed foods, which creates a more visually appealing presentation. Since an important part of the dining experience is that we "eat with our eyes", the psychological status and appetite of a patient can be significantly improved with attractive plate presentations of pureed foods.

With the introduction of THICK & EASY® in 1988, it has literally changed the way pureed foods are thickened and formed, and served in virtually every nursing home in the United States and in 24 countries around the world. Our complete program will show you how to develop a comprehensive menu for safer swallowing and more attractive plate presentations for patients with dysphagia.