Swallowing & Eating

Poor control of the muscles of the throat, mouth and tongue sometimes leads to drooling. Drooling can cause severe skin irritation and, because it is socially unacceptable, can lead to further isolation of affected children from their peers. There are a number of treatments that may help:

  • Drugs called anticholinergics can reduce the flow of saliva but may cause significant side effects, such as mouth dryness and poor digestion.
  • Surgery, while sometimes effective, carries the risk of complications, including worsening of swallowing problems.
  • Biofeedback tells patients when they are drooling or having difficulty controlling muscles that close the mouth.

Difficulty with eating and swallowing — also triggered by motor problems in the mouth — can cause poor nutrition. Poor nutrition, in turn, may make the individual more vulnerable to infections and cause or aggravate "failure to thrive" — a lag in growth and development that is common among those with cerebral palsy.

To make swallowing easier, the caregiver may want to prepare semisolid food, such as strained vegetables and fruits. Proper positioning, such as sitting up while eating or drinking and extending the individual's neck away from the body to reduce the risk of choking, is also helpful.

In severe cases of swallowing problems and malnutrition, physicians may recommend tube feeding, in which a tube delivers food and nutrients down the throat and into the stomach, or gastrostomy, in which a surgical opening allows a tube to be placed directly into the stomach.