Eating is essential for maintaining life and we barely give the processes behind it much thought. The two main processes prior to digestion is chewing and swallowing which ensure that food is mechanically broken down and then pushed further into the gut for digestion and absorption of nutrients. However, there are instances where chewing and swallowing does not work as it should and we end up choking during meal time. Chewing and swallowing may seem like two basic functions that we can all do without any problem. But it is carefully coordinated process involving both voluntary and involuntary actions.
Occasionally we may choke if we swallow too quickly without chewing thoroughly or talk while eating. But for the most part choking does not usually occur when chewing and swallowing unless there is an underlying dysfunction with the nerves and muscles that control these processes. There are times where problems with the teeth, mouth, throat and esophagus can also make chewing and swallowing difficult thereby leading to choking. It is therefore important to consult with a doctor if you find that you often end up choking during meal time despite your best efforts to chew thoroughly and swallow bites that are manageable.
Drink Water During Meal Time
There is some confusion as to whether you should be drinking water or other beverages during a meal, like in between every few bites or wait until a meal is completed and then consume fluids. Drinking water during a meal, or after it, both aid digestion and are therefore advisable. It does not dilute digestive juices as is sometimes thought. And cold beverages do not slow down digestion, as even ice water is rapidly warmed in the body during its transit in the gut. However, it can help to prevent choking especially if your saliva is insufficient for lubrication or the mucus that normally coats the esophagus is less than usual.
Do Not Talk While Eating
Our mouth and throat are used for several purposes, such as eating, breathing and talking. However, as a common conduit it can only perform one action at a time. Therefore talking while you are eating is very likely to lead to choking. Most of us can manage to get a few words out with food in our mouth. But it is a bad habit could cause you to choke. Even talking in-between bites can be a problem should you opt to have another mouthful of food without ending the chatter. If you choke often then you should try to keep the conversation at the dinner table to a minimum. Rather listen than talk or try to eat your meal alone in silence.
Pay Attention To Your Meal
Both chewing and the first stage of swallowing are voluntary actions. This means it is under your conscious control – you can choose when or when not to chew or swallow. However, it is possible to get these actions ‘wrong’ if you are very distracted when eating. You may be so engrossed in a movie or busy reading an interesting book while eating that you do not chew thoroughly or swallow when you should. Sometimes you may inhale or gasp while eating because you are so distracted by something around you. If you have been experiencing these scenarios then you should try to pay more attention to your meal. Close the book, tuck away the newspaper and switch off the TV while you eat.
Eat Meals Slowly
Just as important as not talking while eating and paying attention to your meal is to eat slowly. Many of us eat on the go or are too focused on other commitments to sit down to a long meal. It can end up being so rushed that we take large bites, do not chew thoroughly and even try to take another bite while finishing chewing and swallowing the previous one. Furthermore you swallow large amounts of air with each bite and while chewing. Take you time when eating a meal. Rather find a set period of 10 minutes or more to eat rather than trying to beat the clock and downing your entire meal in under 5 minutes. Sometimes it is better to delay your meal by an hour then rush through it immediately.
Smaller Bites and Chew Thoroughly
The size of a bite is dependent on what you can chew comfortably and not how much you can fit into your mouth. Most of us know the size of the bite that we can satisfactorily manage chewing and swallowing. However, if chewing and swallowing is a problem for you then you should opt for smaller bites. Also ensure that you chew thoroughly. The bite that you take often cannot be swallowed immediately in the size that it is, but rather needs to be broken down further by the process of mastication (chewing). There are many theories as to how many times you should chew but it is largely at your own discretion. Just ensure that the food has been broken down enough before you swallow, or chew some more.
Attend To Mouth, Teeth And Throat Problems
Chewing and swallowing can be difficult if you are experiencing problems with your mouth, teeth or throat. The teeth are required to mechanically break down the food adequately when chewing. If not, swallowing becomes difficult and will more likely lead to choking, Problems with the mouth, particularly when there are open sores or pain, affects the way you chew. Ultimately you may not chew thoroughly which once again poses a problem with swallowing. Lastly throat problems can hamper the first stage of the swallowing process. You may also be hesitant to swallow which can then cause the food to go down the ‘wrong’ path and lead to choking.
Increase Saliva Production
We do not give the quantity of saliva in our mouth much thought but low levels of saliva can increase the chance of choking. Saliva serves many purposes in the mouth – it moistens the mouth lining, can destroy bacteria, starts the process of chemical digestion and lubricates food that is chewed and swallowed. The latter is one of the reasons why you may choke more often if you have very little saliva. There are several conditions, particularly salivary gland problems, that lead to low saliva levels. However, it is often a simple case of insufficient water intake and inadequate stimulation of the increased salivation during eating. Try drinking more water and even consider sour foods as an appetizer since it will increase saliva production.