Parkinson’s disease can cause motor symptoms, such as muscle tremors, and non-motor symptoms, including throat phlegm and other throat-related issues.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder.

This article outlines some general symptoms of PD and considers the link between PD and excess phlegm. It also outlines some other throat problems associated with PD and discusses their treatment.

Finally, the article presents the outlook for people living with PD and answers some frequently asked questions about the disease.

As the Parkinson’s Foundation notes, PD can cause difficulty swallowing. Medical professionals sometimes refer to this as dysphagia. The condition can cause saliva and phlegm to accumulate in the back of the throat.

According to a 2019 review, PD can cause a particular type of dysphagia called oropharyngeal dysphagia (OPD), which stems from an issue with the mouth and throat. The likelihood of a person with PD developing OPD may be due to the following:

  • dysfunction of the dopaminergic network in the brain, which affects the muscles involved in swallowing
  • reduced concentrations of a neurochemical called “substance P” in the sputum, which links to the cough and swallow reflexes

The review notes that episodes of OPD increase rapidly as PD progresses.

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According to the Parkinson’s Disease Society of the United Kingdom, dysphagia can cause various symptoms that may affect the throat and respiratory system. These include:

  • food becoming stuck in the throat
  • coughing when eating or drinking
  • choking on food, liquid, or saliva
  • pain when swallowing
  • discomfort in the throat or chest

The organization adds that issues with the throat can lead to the following PD complications:

Most PD-related throat issues are from dysphagia. A 2020 systematic review assessed the effectiveness of numerous treatments for dysphagia in PD, including:

  • swallowing exercises
  • expiratory muscle strength training
  • muscular training of the structures involved in breathing and swallowing
  • electrical stimulation of the nerves and muscles involved in swallowing
  • postural treatment
  • traditional physiotherapy

The review concludes that most of the individual studies were of insufficient quality to determine the effectiveness of individual treatments.

Researchers note that further large-scale clinical trials are necessary to determine the effectiveness and long-term effects of the above treatments for people with PD and dysphagia.

Tips to try

The Parkinson’s Foundation suggests that a person with PD and dysphagia may benefit from consulting a speech and language therapist. The therapist may recommend the following tips to alleviate issues with the throat and swallowing:

  • adjusting sitting and head posture when eating and drinking
  • performing exercises to strengthen the lips, tongue, and throat muscles
  • performing exercises to increase cough strength and breath-holding
  • eating primarily soft, moist foods to ease swallowing
  • drinking thickened beverages that move more slowly in the mouth
  • avoiding foods of different consistencies in the same mouthful
  • adjusting eating and drinking speeds

PD is a neurodegenerative disease. It can cause motor and non-motor symptoms.

Motor symptoms

Motor symptoms affect movement, balance, and posture.

Non-motor symptoms

Non-motor symptoms affect the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary and unconscious bodily functions.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, issues affecting the throat and swallowing are non-motor symptoms of PD.

Other non-motor symptoms include:

  • olfactory dysfunction, which affects the ability to smell
  • changes to vision
  • vertigo and dizziness
  • breathing and respiratory problems
  • digestive issues
  • pain
  • sleep disorders
  • fatigue
  • changes to mood and cognition

There is currently no cure for PD, but treatments can help manage the condition and alleviate symptoms.

Medical professionals typically associate dysphagia with a poorer outlook, but this symptom usually develops or worsens in the later stages of the disease.

According to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, most people respond well to medications for PD and experience only mild to moderate disability. In comparison, a minority of people with PD will develop serious and potentially life threatening complications.

The NHS notes that thanks to advances in treatment, most people with PD now have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about PD.

Does Parkinson’s disease cause excess mucus?

PD can cause dysphagia, leading to mucus buildup in the back of the throat.

How does Parkinson’s disease affect a person at night?

PD can cause sleep disorders. One such disorder is REM sleep behavior disorder (RSBD). In RSBD, a person during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep enacts behaviors from their dreams. These actions may range from harmless hand gestures to violent thrashing and kicking.

People who experience sleep disorders and disturbed sleep may develop excessive daytime sleepiness. This in turn can impair their ability to function normally during the day.

Does Parkinson’s disease affect the esophagus?

PD can cause a decrease in esophageal peristalsis. Esophageal peristalsis is the term for the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the esophageal muscles.

This action helps move food from the esophagus into the stomach. As such, PD can result in dysphagia and digestive issues.

What stage of Parkinson’s disease is dysphagia?

Dysphagia can occur during the early stages of PD. More severe dysphagia and related complications tend to develop during the later stages of the disease.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the nerves and muscles. It can cause motor and non-motor symptoms. Excess phlegm is an example of a non-motor symptom of PD.

Dysphagia is the main cause of phlegm in PD since it causes saliva and mucus to accumulate in the back of the throat. In PD, dysphagia can occur due to impairments in the nerves and muscles in the mouth and throat.

Research suggests that people with PD may also have lower levels of neurochemicals involved in swallowing and coughing reflexes.

There is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of most treatments for dysphagia. However, people may benefit from working with a speech and language therapist. They can recommend implementing certain lifestyle changes to help with this symptom.