I know it’s important to keep swallowing during radiation but is there a certain amount I should be sure to eat each day? You should eat as much as possible by mouth. There is no predetermined amount of oral intake and patients are encouraged to take as much by mouth as possible. If you are able to drink a can of tube feeding, it’s always better to drink it than to put it through the tube.
When will I feel the effects of radiation? In general, the acute effects are radiation begin to become prominent during the third week of treatment. For this reason, monitored care by you SLP will general happen during week three or four, after some of the more notable effects are being experienced. In this way, your symptoms are monitored and care plans may be altered as such to ensure the best possible functional outcome.
How long will it take to recover from radiation? Just as the effects of radiation are observed to come along gradually, the recovery is also more gradual. Generally, speaking, three weeks after completion of radiation treatment, many of the acute effects are greatly diminished. There are, however, more long term effects of radiation that can be lifelong in duration. These may begin to be more notable following recovery from the acute phase of your treatment. Your doctor or SLP staff can discuss this with your more thoroughly.
Why is my mouth so dry? Xerostomia is the term used to describe the dry mouth experience may patients notice during as well as after radiation. This happens when the salivary glands are impacted by the effects of radiation. Both the amount of output from these glands as well as the consistency of the saliva is changed. There is typically less saliva generated and it can be more viscous, or thicker than before. Although this may improve somewhat following recovery from radiation, there is typically a permanent change to the moisture level of the mouth and/or throat, depending on the focus of radiation.
Although there is no way to reverse these effects, there are some medications that may help improve salivary production. Your doctors can discuss these options with you.
Findings ways to compensate for the xerostomia is very important. While there are certainly comfort concerns, the mouth and throat are lined with tissues that are designed to stay moist. Taking sips of water, if cleared by your SLP, can assist in maintaining adequate moisture in the mouth and throat. Some patients find hard candies are helpful in this regard as well, although typically, you should avoid any containing peppermint, cinnamon, or ascorbic acid (lemon/sour flavors) as these may cause increased irritation to the mouth and throat.
Improving the humidification, especially at night can also help with the extreme dryness many patients reports after waking in the morning. As most adults breath through their mouth when sleeping, humidified air can help. Using a humidifier by the bed will help to provide moisture to the air you breath in while sleeping.
When will my sense of taste return?Dysguesia is a term used to describe an altered sense of taste. In many cases, patients, can experience a loss of taste, where it becomes difficult to detect any flavor in the food. In other cases, many patients can report food tastes bad. Although some of the dysguesia may be a result of surgical changes, there may also be some neurologic impact of radiation to the nerves coming from the taste buds.
How directly the taste buds are exposed to radiation determines to some extent, how quickly your sense of taste will return. If the tongue is a direct target, it may take several months for your sense of taste to return. Despite this, the return of function is gradual so you may begin to notice some sense of taste after a few weeks. This should continue to improve over time.
When will my saliva come back?Xerostomia is the term used to describe the dry mouth experience may patients notice during as well as after radiation. This happens when the salivary glands are impacted by the effects of radiation. Both the amount of output from these glands as well as the consistency of the saliva is changes. There is typically less saliva generated and it can be more viscous, or thicker than before. Although this may improve somewhat following recovery from radiation, there is typically a permanent change to the moisture level of the mouth and/or throat, depending on the focus of radiation.
Why do I have so much mucous? In response to radiation injury, mucositis can develop, which is an inflammation of the mucous membranes, resulting in excessive mucous production. This is also very thick in nature and therefore can be more difficult to manage. Using a humidifier as much as possible can be helpful as drier air can cause the mucous to become thicker and stickier. Ice chips and sips of water can help break up the mucous although you should check with your SLP before doing this is you are not eating by mouth.
Updated Oct 18, 2013
Copyright 2011-2013 Katrina M. Jensen, M.A., CCC-SLP, PLLC