As one ages, sensory discrimination in the oral cavity progressively diminishes, and dysphagia and aspiration are more likely to occur. Whether similar age-related laryngeal and pharyngeal sensory abnormalities exist and contribute to dysphagia and aspiration is unknown. The purpose of this study was to determine if sensory discrimination in the area innervated by the superior laryngeal nerve diminishes with increasing age. By applying a previously described new device and technique that utilizes brief air pulse stimulation of the anterior wall of the pyriform sinus, sensory discrimination can be reliably determined. We carried out 672 trials in 56 healthy adults divided into three age groups: 20 to 40, 41 to 60, and 61 to 90 years of age. Overall, the average sensory discrimination was 2.30 +/- 0.50 mm Hg. In subjects 20 to 40 years of age, sensory discrimination was 2.07 +/- 0.20 mm Hg, while in subjects 61 to 90 years of age, sensory discrimination was 2.68 +/- 0.63 mm Hg (p < .05). There also was a statistically significant difference between the 41- to 60-year and 61- to 90-year age groups (p < .05). Progressive diminution in pharyngeal and supraglottic sensitivity with increasing age might be a contributing factor in the development of dysphagia and aspiration in the elderly.