There are a host of different phobias, but not all of them are life-threatening or cause serious alarm. However, that cannot be said for pseudodysphagia, otherwise known as a fear of choking.
This is a type of phobia that can lead to health problems down the road as the fear can overwhelm you, preventing you from doing normal everyday things. If you or a loved one suffer from it, our guide should hopefully give you a better idea of the condition to understand it more.
Before we go into more detail about this choking fobia, here are a few common questions that should help you gain some more immediate answers.
How do I get over my fear of choking?
You must seek treatment to help get over your choking fobia as it can lead to significant health concerns such as extreme weight loss. The type of treatment depends on what you discuss with a healthcare professional, but it may include therapy and medication.
Can anxiety cause a fear of choking?
Since anxiety can make it feel as though you have a “lump in your throat”, it can make swallowing appear difficult if not impossible. From there, it can certainly create a fear that you may choke.
Is phagophobia an eating disorder?
Both phagophobia and pseudodysphagia are considered specific phobias rather than eating disorders. However, these swallowing and choking fears can lead to an eating disorder such as anorexia if the anxiety prevents you from eating altogether.
Pseudodysphagia – The Choking Fear
At some point in life, especially in childhood, you may have found it difficult to swallow your food or drink. Perhaps you went too fast or had too much in your mouth.
It’s a common occurrence, but for some people in the world, the fear that you may choke (otherwise known as pseudodysphagia) can overwhelm their day-to-day life.
If you or someone you know feels anxious anytime they have to drink or eat, it’s important to seek professional help to help guide you through this condition so that you may find ways to cope.
Meanwhile, our guide should inform you more about the phobia from what causes it to the type of treatment available.
The exact cause for someone to develop a fear of choking isn’t easy to discern. For one thing, the patient in question may not recall when the phobia began. Secondly, there are a few factors that can contribute to it.
Although a continued debate, there are times where phobias can be learned behavior.
This can be easier seen in children with a choking fear. Perhaps they have noticed someone in their life, a parent or other adult figure, have issues when eating and drinking. If they see it frequently or perhaps even witnessed someone choking, it can cause this fear to sprout.
Another potential cause of a choking fear can be a trauma, physical or otherwise.
A person could have experienced a severe sore throat in the past that made swallowing difficult and painful, and this could have caused a psychological concern that anything they eat or drink will hurt even after they’ve healed.
This is true as well for anything else that may have made swallowing an issue from having severe dental work to outright injuring your throat.
Although anxiety doesn’t directly interfere with your ability to swallow, it can impede the motor process that aids swallowing.
When you’re anxious or feeling stressed, muscles throughout your body can constrict. In this case, the throat muscles. This can lead to making it difficult to swallow, especially if you’re eating or drinking.
From there, it can transform to a fear of choking that only grows the more anxious you get.
Anxiety can also make you focus too hard on the mundane tasks your brain typically does without you thinking about it, and that includes swallowing. By taking away such a natural and innate reflex, it can make you hyper-aware of the act and anxious about whether or not you’ll choke.
Negative Food Experience
Of course, physically choking instead of just fearing it will happen can lead to this phobia.
This can happen at any age, and it can especially make children fearful of eating or drinking again if they went through the unfortunate experience of choking.
This fear can also be caused by another food phobia: cibophobia. This is a fear of food, and it can include all food or specific food.
There is a host of symptoms that come with this phobia. Many of these are related to anxiety, so someone suffering from this condition may feel:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Uneven breathing
- Panic/anxiety attacks
Alongside that, people also experience apprehension or reluctance to eat certain foods. This can cause them to switch to a liquid-based diet as that might be, in their minds, easier to handle.
They may simply eat in smaller amounts or take little bites. Perhaps if the fear of drinking isn’t too intense, then they may drink more frequently while eating as that can also make it easier to swallow.
In serious cases, it can lead to complete fear. While that can cause a panic or anxiety attack, it can also make someone not eat and drink at all.
This can lead to a host of severe consequences such as weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration.
Diagnosing the Condition
Since the fear of choking is a specific phobia, there are a few ways a healthcare professional can diagnose it.
First of all, they will determine your symptoms and how long it has been going on. Roughly six months is a strong indicator that the condition has been going on for enough time to raise alarms. This goes along with just how severe the symptoms are and how it interferes with your life.
For this phobia, a doctor will also work to rule out other issues such as any illnesses or trauma that may be causing you to have this fear. They can also address any other mental health concerns such as an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.
Treatment and Coping Options
It’s important to address treatment and coping methods when you have a fear of choking since it can hinder your ability or desire to eat and drink.
To treat it, a doctor may recommend you try therapy:
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): This form of talk therapy is common enough that it may be one of the first treatment options recommended. It can help you learn to distract yourself and come to terms with addressing the negative thought process you have.
- Exposure therapy: This type of therapy can help you confront your fear head-on, yet in a way that is safe and controlled with your therapist.
- Hypnotherapy: A guided hypnosis, hypnotherapy helps you enter a trance-like state so you can better focus on the issue at hand and learn more about the cause of your fear.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This psychotherapy focuses on using sensory stimuli that can help reduce the anxiety and distress you feel that leads to your choking fear.
Along with the therapy, there’s a chance a doctor will prescribe you medication to help cut down on your anxiety. This includes the likes of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.
Besides the treatment, there are ways you can cope so that you may conquer the fear on your time:
- Drinking while eating: You can always take a few sips of drink while eating as that can make it easier to swallow, thus reducing the fear that you may choke.
- Eating softer foods: Soft foods don’t cause as much irritation when you swallow, and they can be easier to handle. This is especially useful if your fear stems from some sort of throat trauma or illness.
- Distract yourself: Sometimes the issue is thinking too hard about the possibility of choking. In this case, find a distraction such as listening to something while you eat. This can be another person talking, watching TV, or simply hearing some relaxing music.
Phagophobia – All About the Analogous Phobia
In many cases, people can conflate the fear of choking with the fear of swallowing, but the pair are noted as separate phobias.
Phagophobia, known as the fear of swallowing, can cause a hesitation to eat and drink, or it can make people with the phobia focus on consuming softer or liquid-based food.
Although it can be linked to pseudodysphagia and the fear of choking, phagophobia is simply a fear of the act of swallowing itself.
Much like with the fear of choking, the fear of swallowing can have several causes. This can be a food fear or anxiety to swallow because it may hurt if you have trauma or an illness like strep throat.
People who suffer from this phobia may even get over their physical trauma, but they may still have a strong psychological aversion to the act of swallowing if the pain or distress was severe enough that they think it can still happen if they swallow again.
Symptoms of this fear of swallowing are like pseudodysphagia in that it can lead to anxiety, severe or mild.
This can cause specific anxiety-related symptoms like excessive sweating, irrational fear, rapid heartbeat, and even full-blown anxiety attacks or panic attacks.
It can lead to a complete aversion to swallowing, which is done by avoiding drinking and eating altogether. Of course, this can cause health issues and serious symptoms like dehydration and malnutrition. It can even lead to you developing an eating disorder.
Diagnosing the Condition
Diagnosing this phobia comes with the usual questions about your symptoms and how long they persisted.
This requires complete transparency, or otherwise, it can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose you with the condition.
Also, other health-related issues need to be weighed or ruled out. It’s important to note that there is nothing physically preventing you from swallowing your food as that leads to a different treatment plan.
Treatment and Coping Options
As with the case with pseudodysphagia, much of the treatment starts with some type of therapy. Whether you undergo talk therapy to understand the negative thoughts you have surrounding swallowing, or you address some more hands-on exposure therapy to better confront the issue, a therapist is a good place to start.
Since the condition can cause anxiety, or perhaps work hand-in-hand with another anxiety disorder, a doctor can offer medication such as anti-depressants to help you manage symptoms.
You can opt to cope with this condition completely on your own though, more so if the symptoms aren’t too severe. This can be done by slowly chewing your food or working in smaller bites so that swallowing is painless and easy to do.
Additionally, you may also use distraction techniques so that your mind isn’t even thinking about the act of eating and drinking. This ensures you won’t fixate on swallowing so much, thus bringing about anxiety.
Helping Children Through the Condition
In the unfortunate case of children suffering from this phobia, it’s important for parents and caregivers to understand their anxiety.
It’s easy to get frustrated when a child is picky about eating because they’re scared, or when they just refuse food outright no matter their age. Nonetheless, adults should keep a clear head to help guide them through this fear and help them move on.
A good way to do that is by giving them easier food to manage. Try popsicles and ice cream. Not only are they simple, but they work as fun treats kids may be eager to consume.
Smoother foods like soup, broth, and sauces or easy too. You can even have kids suck on small ice chips to get them more comfortable.
Use smaller amounts and build upon that over time. It can certainly help to eat with the child in question as, in many cases, kids pick up from adults and can work to unlearn this phobia once they see that nothing bad will happen.
Of course, contact a doctor if the condition worsens and you notice symptoms like sudden weight loss, fatigue, and dehydration.
The fear of choking is not something to ignore. With this anxiety, a person can begin to fret over a simple and innate act such as swallowing. It can lead to them becoming overwhelmed with the acts of eating and drinking, making it difficult if not impossible to do.
Through this, several symptoms can pop up ranging from mildly concerning to life-threatening. You can undergo panic and anxiety attacks, or even develop an eating disorder that can cause harm to your body such as malnutrition.
In this case, seeking help is important. It will allow you to discover if this is truly a phobia or if it is related to another health issue like trauma or an illness.
We hope that our guide informed you a bit more about the condition so that you’re less in the dark. From there, you will hopefully conquer your fear of choking so that you can lead a productive and healthier life without anxiety hanging over you.
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