Thickened fluids and thickened drinks are often used for people with dysphagia, a disorder of swallowing function. The thicker consistency makes it less likely that an individual will aspirate while they are drinking. Individuals with difficulty swallowing may find liquids cause coughing, spluttering or even choking and thickening drinks enables them to swallow safely. Patients are often ordered onto thickened liquids after being extubated. Liquid thickness may be measured by two methods, with a viscometer or by line spread test.
There are several levels of consistency/viscosity.
- Thin liquids: Unthickened, such as water or juice. Common thin liquids include coffee, tea, clear broth, clear juice, skim milk, 2% milk, and whole milk.
- Nectar thickened: Approximately as thick as tomato juice. Should pour in a continuous stream without "breaking" into drops. Common "natural" nectar thick liquids include nectar, tomato juice, and buttermilk.
- Honey thickened: Sticks to the sides of a cup like honey. Pours very slowly. Liquids include honey and cream soups.
- Pudding thickened: Will hold its shape when scooped with a spoon.
Patients who have a restriction on thin liquids should avoid milk shakes, ice cream, popsicles, and Jell-O as these melt into thin liquids in the mouth.
There are multiple commercial thickeners on the market for thickening liquids. Vendors are also preparing pre-thickened liquids such as water, juice, and milk in individual serving sized cartons. Some commercial thickeners use modified maize starch, which helps support hydration and nutritional levels, while others use xanthan gum.
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