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Aerodigestive Disorders

There are many ways to categorize the causes of aerodigestive disorders, given the overlap of structures and functions involved.

This Practice Portal page uses the following categories:


  • embryologic origins, including incomplete or atypical development, innervation, structure, and function of the aerodigestive tract structures


  • injury or surgery affecting airway, pulmonary, or digestive structure and function
  • weakness or dysfunction of the upper esophageal sphincter, allowing for regurgitation of acidic content into the pharynx, larynx, or nasal airway
  • weakness or dysfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing acidic stomach contents to reenter the esophagus


  • emotional stressors, fear, and/or anxiety that contribute to increased muscle tension
  • environmental irritants or exercise
  • laryngeal hyperreactivity
  • laryngotracheal hyporeactivity

Other Medical Conditions

  • autonomic dysfunction (e.g., diabetic neuropathy, vasovagal syncope)
  • cardiovascular, pulmonary, or neurological diseases, or cancer, leading to breathing–swallowing incoordination (e.g., congenital heart defects, meconium aspiration syndrome, chronic lung disease, cystic fibrosis, head and neck cancer, motor neuron disease)
  • irregular, unsynchronized, inappropriate, or absent esophageal contractions causing motility problems
  • neurological diseases affecting aerodigestive sensorimotor function (e.g., stroke, Parkinson’s disease, prematurity, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, myopathies)
  • neurological problems that trigger coughing, laryngospasm, bronchial constriction, or long-term bronchial changes affecting lung function
  • recovery from respiratory failure or aerodigestive disuse during periods of critical care due to the use of artificial airways

Paradoxical Vocal Fold Movement (PVFM)

The exact cause of PVFM is not known, although PVFM may be related to laryngeal hyperresponsiveness.

PVFM may be triggered by

  • organic factors, such as gastroesophageal reflux or environmental irritants, or
  • nonorganic factors, such as exercise or psychological stress.

Chronic Cough

  • asthma syndrome
  • esophageal diseases, such as gastroesophageal reflux
  • idiopathic heightened cough response, particularly in females
  • rhinitis and sinusitis
  • postnasal drip
  • use of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (medications for the treatment of high blood pressure and heart failure)

For detailed information about the causes of aerodigestive disorders, see, for example, Andrews (2006), Ashland and Hersh (2009), Coyle (2010), Dinwiddie (2004), Ibrahim et al. (2007), Jadcherla (2012), Matsuo and Palmer (2008), Morice (2004), Morris et al. (2006), and Reitz et al. (2014).

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.