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Choking and swallowing problems after ACDF ???

I had a 2 level ACDF nearly a week ago and am having problems swallowing and sometimes choking on things.
I have also made some very strange noises when I swallow water; There is bubbling noises and almost like a croaking frog!! The nurses and doctor were very interested, with the doctor listening with her stethoscope to it. Most of them had never come across it before, but one nurse said it could indicate a problem.

I have had a speech therapist phone me at home and talk about my symptoms. She has given some advice on how to prevent getting a lung infection from liquids and food getting into my air way. She is hopeful that it is being caused by swelling and not nerve damage.

Now I know that swallowing problems are quite common after this surgery.
I am interested to hear of other's experiences;

How long did it last for you?

What 'tricks' did you learn to deal with it?

Any advice will be gratefully received.


  • Thought I would check to see if this is still happening. I definitely had/still have a little, swallowing issues, but nothing ever gurgled. I will say that for you, it has only been a few days, not even a week, right? I am now on day 15 or 16 and swallowing is just now getting easier. I even had some shrimp pad thai tonight and had no problems at all. I am still mindful as I swallow, but it is so much better than previously.

    Good luck with it!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • I had a 2 level ACDF in September of last year. the 1st few days in the hospital, i was choking on everything including liquids . I couldn't eat anything solid at all. I almost had to get scoped before they sent me home because of it. But i convinced them i could get some liquid down, even though it was very difficult, and avoided that fun.

    I would say it was probably 2 weeks before i even attempted anything that wasn't completely soft and mushy. Even then, i found certain food easier than others. oddly enough, i could handle meat, but not mashed potatoes. if it was remotely dry, i would have issues with it.

    pills took a long time to go down ok. I would choke on them, or cough them back up, and have to keep trying to swallow them for a long time. it was probably several months before i could swallow them without thinking about it before i actually tried to swallow them. And get them down on the 1st try consistently.

    i spoke to my doc about it at multiple visits. he said that if i was still have trouble after about the 4 month mark with the pills, then he would want an ENT to scope me. thankfully, things started to ease up just before i hit that point.

    I'm over a year out from then, and everything is fine now. but it did take a long long time to get back to normal. each week was a little bit better, and i could swallow more and more stuff as i went. but it does take time.

    and on a side note, i can't take steroids, so there were no anti-inflammatory meds in my system after the surgery. so it may have slowed down the recovery too.
    Microdisectomy / hemi-laminectomy 6/2010 and revision 10/2010
    Cervical fusion C4-5 and C5-6 9/2011
    Lumbar Fusion L5-S1 6/2012
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  • I just had my 2 level ACDF 17 days ago - and in the hospital, I couldn't even drink water, I lived on ice chips. Applesauce was the only way for me to take my Senakot (I didn't need pain meds - and those were intravenous, when I did), but cream of wheat, applesauce and popsicles was it.

    Once home, fast forwarding to 17 days later, this weekend was the first weekend I could really eat more than scrambled eggs, soups, fresh fruit smoothies and sorbets. Breads, even though soft, would really get stuck, but a few sips of water would push it down.

    Tonight, I had some shrimp pad thai and it was wonderful! No problems. Swallowing water, much easier. I still use applesauce to swallow an occasional Senakot, but I can just feel the difference even swallowing nothing.

    I am glad you are doing well now!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • I had choking and swallowing problems after the surgery for a number of months, and was very hoarse. One big thing the recommended is to drink carbonated beverages and that water would be difficult to swallow...and it was true! Another tip is to take really really small bites and chew a lot before swallowing. Try small amounts of different foods and see what works for you. I was surprised that potato chips and spaghetti were both easy to eat. It was slow, but I saw progress over time.
    4 level ACDF C4-C7 5-2-11, laminectomy & discectomy L4-L5 1/26/12, ALIF L4-5, L5-S1 12/10/12.
  • jellyhalljjellyhall Posts: 4,372
    edited 11/12/2012 - 3:15 AM
    I have a very hoarse voice too and am still making these strange croaking noises sometimes when I swallow, particularly water.

    I have been given a 'trick' where I can hold my breath, take a small sip of water, swallow it and then breath out. They tell me that this will really reduce the chance of getting liquid into my lungs because holding your breath closes the wind pipe.

    This morning I had to take some tablets, one after the other. I took the first one with some water and thought it had gone down so I took the other tablet. They both came up again. I now realise that I need to wait for a bit inbetween tablets to make sure they have really gone down before I try another one.

    Karen, I was also told that water is probably the worst because it is so thin that it goes down like a waterfall and my swallowing muscles can't cope with the speed of it. Fruit smoothies are much better.

    I am experimenting and taking very small mouthfuls, always with a glass of liquid beside me to wash things down if necessary.

    I do think that my eating is getting slightly better, but the liquids still pose a problem.

    Just call me Jellyfrog!!

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  • Jellyhall-

    Same for me in the beginning. I still can really only sip water. I have been enjoying making fruit smoothies - and the same for me, it goes down much more easily. But, it seems like more swelling has gone down internally, so swallowing is getting easier, every few days.

    Jellyhall - have you tried taking your pills with a spoon of applesauce? I think the same logic applies - that the smoothies go down much easier, I found that applesauce was perfect for taking pills. Just a thought.

    Tonight, I grilled my steak. OH MY GOODNESS! I was so excited and it was perfectly grilled - and it was so tender, I COULD SWALLOW IT! I was mindful of chewing and swallowing, but no problems at all. I was thrilled.

    Now, if I could only get my voice back! :) Soon, I know. Soon. Hopefully

    You're doing great! :)
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion

  • No, I haven't tried applesauce to help my tablets go down. I will remember that. Thank you.

    I am so glad that you enjoyed your steak! I am jealous, but know that the day will come for me too. We had lasagne last night and that went down pretty well too, with lots of chewing. I think that anything in sauce is easier.

    We are doing great! :-)
  • The speech therapist just phoned me and she is going to get an appointment to see me.
    I think it is the 'croaking' noise that is worrying her.
    She can't be sure what is causing it over the phone, so wants to see me.

  • FrancineSFFFrancineSF Posts: 318
    edited 11/13/2012 - 6:40 AM
    I am glad they are on top of that. I can't even speak on the phone very much, so at least you have a voice! haha

    Yeah - the applesauce was the difference for me - smooth and everything went down more easily with that. Plus, it tasted good!

    Good luck!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • Hi Jelly! I had swallowing problems for about 2-3 weeks after my ACDF. It was very painful when I swallowed and the muscles in my throat would spasm. Crackers were the worst because they would stick to my throat! I had to crush my vitamins and mixed them with applesauce so it would go down smoothly. Also, I drank flavored yogurt drinks mixed with protein powder, aloe vera (for faster healing of scar) and Perfect Food (a powdered supplement made of green vegetables) since I had a hard time eating solid food.

    I agree that thicker liquids are best. Good luck and know that this is very common! :-)
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
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