5 Reasons You May Be Having Difficulty Swallowing

Dr. Alexa Lessow at Lexington ENT & Allergy has treated numerous patients with dysphagia, the medical term for problems with swallowing. Sometimes determining the reason it hurts for you to swallow can be a complex undertaking, because it can be a symptom of quite a few different conditions. 

Each year, about 1 in 25 adults in the United States have problems swallowing. By preventing you from swallowing normally, dysphagia can lead to malnourishment  and other health problems. 

In this post we discuss five of the most common reasons you may be having difficulty swallowing. If you have pain or discomfort when you swallow and can’t determine why, seek treatment sooner rather than later. Early treatment can make a difference. 


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is more commonly known as acid reflux. It’s the most common reason for esophageal dysphagia, which is one of two categories of swallowing problems. GERD may make you feel like food is stuck at the base of your throat or in your chest. 

GERD can make your esophagus narrower, or create strictures, and it can also cause ulcers. Both strictures and ulcers make it more difficult to swallow. Heartburn is often used to describe occasional acid reflux, but GERD is a chronic condition. 

2. Parkinson’s  disease

There are several neurological conditions that can impact your ability to swallow, and Parkinson’s disease is one of them. It causes oropharyngeal dysphagia, the second category of swallowing problems. With oropharyngeal dysphagia, you struggle to move food from your mouth to your throat, and you may gag, choke, or cough when you try. 

In addition to Parkinson’s disease, neurological damage, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy can cause oropharyngeal dysphagia. Physical therapy is often a successful approach to treating dysphagia caused by neurological issues. 

3. Cancer

Cancerous tumors can cause either esophageal or oropharyngeal dysphagia, depending on where the tumor forms. Tumors can create physical barriers to swallowing, and may form in your throat, esophagus, or stomach. 

Cancer treatments, too, can affect your ability to swallow. Radiation therapy, in particular, can cause oropharyngeal dysphagia. 

4. Thyroid issues

Your thyroid gland is located at the base of your throat, just under your Adam’s apple. Some conditions make the butterfly-shaped gland enlarge or develop nodules, which causes it to press against your esophagus. That pressure impedes your ability to swallow comfortably. Women experience thyroid issues more often than men. 

5. Herpes 

There are a great many herpes viruses. Some herpes simplex viruses can cause infections in your mouth or esophagus, and those infections can make it hard to swallow. Herpes esophagitis is sometimes accompanied by heart pain. 

It is important to note that if you have sudden difficulty swallowing, this may be due to an allergic reaction, for which you should seek medical care immediately.

In most cases, treating the underlying condition relieves dysphagia. If you’re having difficulty swallowing, contact Lexington ENT & Allergy so we can begin to help you understand why. You can call us at 212-861-1961 or request an appointment online.

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