Phagophobia or Fear of Choking: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Is it normal not to be able to swallow because of anxiety? Phagophobia is an irrational fear of choking. This fear can reach the point that the person who suffers from it avoids consuming solid foods and therefore ends up putting their life at risk. In the most serious cases, you even avoid swallowing anything, including liquid foods, drinks, and even your own saliva. It is part of anxiety disorders although it is also sometimes part of obsessive compulsive disorder.

It is a rare disorder, it is estimated that 1 in 500 people suffer from it. However, it may once have happened to you in a milder way or to someone you know. In recent years the incidence has increased, but due to the few studies that exist on the disorder, it is sometimes difficult to detect. Therefore, to know the different symptoms, causes and treatments of phagophobia or fear of choking , keep reading.

Symptoms of phagophobia

There are many symptoms that can help us detect a possible phagophobia, among which are:

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety . Physical symptoms such as headaches, increased heart and breathing rates, high muscle tension, dizziness or vertigo and even fainting and loss of consciousness, high levels of sweating, gastrointestinal problems, and feeling short of breath. These types of symptoms correspond to those of anxiety, therefore, phagophobia, like the rest of phobias, is considered a type of anxiety disorder .
  • Distorted thoughts . Common cognitive symptoms refer to various irrational thoughts and beliefs related to the phobia such as the fear of choking and therefore endangering your life.
  • Avoidant . Behavioral symptoms refer to the avoidance of the situation that is feared, that is, avoiding eating solid, for example, avoiding social events that involve food, etc.
  • It is clear that fear must be irrational and enduring in time to be diagnosed with this disorder.

Causes of phagophobia

The causes for which phagophobia develops are usually combined. Among the factors that influence phagophobia, we have:

  • Phagophobia is usually related to people with high self-demand and perfectionism .
  • Additionally, there may also be a genetic predisposition .
  • In some cases, the phobia arises due to excessive concern on the part of the parents of the person who chokes during their childhood, so this concern ends up being adopted in adulthood.
  • On the other hand, as we mentioned, it is more likely to be developed by people with obsessive compulsive disorder .
  • Finally, having experienced a choking-related situation or having witnessed or heard the story of someone who has experienced this type of situation can be the trigger for the problem.

Treatment to overcome phagophobia

How to get out of phagophobia? It is vital for the person to treat this pathology due to the risk of malnutrition that could be prolonged over time. Overcoming the fear of choking is possible with professional guidance.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy . One of the most useful therapies for these types of problems is cognitive-behavioral therapy . Cognitive behavioral therapy for phagophobia is intended to correct distorted thoughts that are keeping the person in trouble.
  • Clarification and achievement of values . As a complement, techniques typical of third generation therapies can be used, such as clarification and achievement of values, that is, it would try to reflect to the person what important aspects of his life he has left aside due to his phobia and it would be seen subsequently, how these areas could be recovered. This is important since due to the phobia the person usually avoids social events since they usually take place around a meal. Consequently, social relationships are lost and family, couple, social and work problems arise.
  • Systematic exposure and desensitization . Later, to overcome the fear of choking, they will gradually expose them with the therapist to the stimuli that cause the least fear and ending with the stimuli that produce the most anxiety and fear. These exercises for phagophobia are known as systematic desensitization . In some cases, if a real and live exhibition of the feared situations cannot be carried out, the exhibition that will take place will be imagined. Although, this is less effective.
  • Relaxation techniques . In order for this exposure to take place, the person will have been previously taught various relaxation techniques . Furthermore, these techniques serve to reduce the physical and physiological symptoms mentioned above. We recommend doing the guided relaxation for anxiety that we leave you below.

In any case, it is of the utmost importance that the treatment is carried out by a qualified professional since, if not, it is highly probable that the problem could worsen and could lead to the death of the person.