Types of saliva problems
Motor neurone disease (MND) is a progressive and terminal disease that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. Many people with MND will experience problems with saliva control.
The salivary glands produce two different types of secretions: thin, watery saliva and thick mucus.
Phlegm is a thick mucus secreted by the membranes of the respiratory passages. Someone with MND may experience thin, runny saliva that drools out of the mouth, thick tenacious saliva or phlegm. Thick saliva and phlegm can be difficult to clear.
Some people may experience all of these.
People with MND may find they experience pooling of large amounts of thin watery saliva, which can cause drooling.
Although a normal amount of saliva is produced by those with MND, around two to three pints every day, excessive saliva (sialorrhea) is a commonly reported symptom.
In most cases, saliva problems are the result of poor saliva control, caused by poor lip seal and/or dysphagia. People who have MND may have weak muscles around the mouth, tongue and throat. This can make it more difficult to manage saliva, both in the mouth and during swallowing.
Others complain more of thickened mucus in the mouth and throat, which is difficult to swallow, or phlegm in the airways, which is difficult to cough up due to weakened respiratory muscles and an ineffective cough.
Thick mucus can build up in the mouth and at the back of the throat of someone with MND due to:
- mouth breathing or open mouth posture, which can lead to evaporation of saliva.
This may produce stringy mucus and cause airways to become blocked. This can be very distressing for the person with MND and those who care for them.
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Some people will experience a dry mouth, which may be caused by the medication they are taking, thrush, a coated tongue, insufficient fluids or breathing through the mouth.
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More information can be found in our information sheet for health and social care professionals: