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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Epiglottis does not close properly



A relative of mine recently found out that his epiglottis does not close properly when he swallows so he has to now add thickener to all of the liquids he consumes and he has to put all his food in the blender or risk choking or food going down his wind pipe. When he swallows now he has to turn his head to the left. Why is that? Is there any way to fix his epiglottis so that it will return to normal? Will this condition worsen to the point of using a feeding tube? Can surgery fix this? Is it hereditary? His mother also tended to have trouble swallowing. Can anything besides what he is currently doing help? What is this disorder called?


It is hard for me to give you the information you are seeking. I don't know how old your relative is or if he has any diagnoses.  If I assume that he is older, I would be inclined to say that the condition is probably not hereditary.  I would be inclined to believe that it may be related to aging or a possible stroke or some other condition of aging.

I am encouraged by the fact that he is able to swallow better if he turns his head to one side.   This means that he is able to take advantage of compensatory strategies.  Sometimes head turn is necessary when a patient has a paralyzed vocal cord.  Turning the head toward the side of the paralysis actually closes the vocal cords better so that he can swallow better.  I  am not trying to say that he has a paralyzed vocal cord.  I do not know this.  I am just giving you information. 

In general, the speech pathologists are usually good at teaching people how to swallow when they have problems with the epiglottis or the vocal cords not working well.  If your relative is motivated, he will probably get good results.

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Response by:

Keith M Wilson, MD Keith M Wilson, MD
Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Head and Neck Division
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati