Food, medicine and water and three things vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and are all typically ingested on a daily basis. Now, imagine being unable to consume any of these items due to an extreme fear of swallowing. This is described as Phagophobia, an irrational fear of swallowing that usually triggers an extremely strong gag reflex in a person. While a common cause is unknown, phagophobia can often lead to other phobias or even severe physical health problems. When a phobia is tied to a muscle reflex, treatment is increasingly difficult and overcoming the fear requires serious dedication to self help methods or motivation to seek out professional help.

Symptoms of Phagophobia

Common symptoms resulting from a fear of swallowing may include:

  • Inability to take most oral medications, most specifically pills.
  • A sudden disinterest in most foods or liquids.
  • Severe weight loss.
  • Increase in general anxiety or depression.
  • Forced anorexia.

Common Facts About Phagophobia

Phagophobia is different from most phobias because it does not necessarily have to be onset by any similar anxieties. Phagophobia may develop from any general anxiety and appear during a panic attack or as a result of a stressful situation.

A person’s fear to swallow will usually initiate an extreme gag reflex that commonly makes swallowing medicine or solid food nearly impossible. A person’s throat muscles will flex and spasm during their panic attack, closing the throat and expelling any unwanted items out of the mouth. While phagophobia does not have to be caused by a specific anxiety disorder, the fear may cause more serious phobias to develop. An untreated fear of swallowing may result in a fear of certain food (Cibophobia) or a fear of vomiting (Emetophobia), leading to more severe complications that could cause serious damage to a person’s social lives and mental health.

Treatment of Phagophobia

Exposure treatment options offered in treating a phagophobic person have been shown to be surprisingly effective and will usually introduce them to softer foods or liquids to ease their fear of swallowing. The focus of most therapies will be on chewing and making sure the food can easily be swallowed, followed by a drink of water. The types of foods will gradually increase in density until the patient is fully comfortable eating and swallowing food. Eventually, the gag reflex should no longer be triggered by eating and many patients are able to overcome their phagophobia.

If phagophobia is causing a disruption to your daily life or negatively affecting your health, consider researching health professionals in your area that will be able to help you overcome your fear of swallowing.

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