Stop the Gag Reflex with Acupressure

What causes gagging?

  • Apprehension: Dental anxiety can improve rapidly when you find a dentist you trust and you feel in good hands. In many cases, the gagging ceases completely.
  • A sensitive gag reflex: Some people have a very active gag reflex. There are many tips on this page which can help, but for some, there will remain certain no-go areas in their mouths. Sedation or hypnosis can help if that is the case.
  • Past experiences: A feeling that a threat to breathing or swallowing is about to occur is common in people who’ve had a past near-drowning experience. The gag reflex may kick in as a protective mechanism. It can also be related to past sexual or physical abuse or torture experiences.
  • Emetophobia (a fear of throwing up) often causes an intense fear of gagging, as gagging is perceived as a precursor to being sick. Ironically, trying not to gag may trigger the gag reflex (just like trying not to think of a pink elephant makes you think of… a pink elephant).

More resources

Combating the hypersensitive gag reflex (PDF) – by Mike Gow and Jamie NewlandsTips for the Management of the gagging patient (PDF) (Dental Fears Research Clinic, Washington)

Video

What if Youve Already Started to Gag?

This acupressure technique will work even if your gag reflex has already been stimulated and your child’s throat is starting to spasm.

Just quickly do what I show you below and the throat constriction will magically turn off!  In our family’s experience, the gag reflex is halted for about 30 seconds when this acupressure technique is employed.

My husband uses this technique occasionally when drinking ultra-strong homemade kefir that is fermented for several days.

The kefir is so sour that if you drink it too quickly, you can’t help but feel a wave of gagging coming on! When this happens, he uses this acupressure position to save himself from a highly unpleasant experience.

Gagging treatments and relief

As long as gagging is not causing severe difficulty breathing, treatment can begin at home. If incidents of gagging increase in frequency or severity, you should consult your physician.

At-home treatments

Home remedies and lifestyle changes are often the first lines of treatment for gagging. Try the following suggestions to help alleviate your symptoms:

  • Smoking cessation: Smoking is a major irritant and cause of damage to the lower respiratory tract; furthermore, smoking can cause acid reflux. Many causes of gagging can improve with smoking cessation.
  • Rest smart: Try not to lie down or lie down flat on a full stomach. This position can facilitate the reflux of stomach acids and make it easier for them to flow back up through the esophagus.
  • Over-the-counter medications: There are medications you can buy that can help reduce nausea. They work by blocking substances in the body that can trigger your reflex to want to vomit. Furthermore, there are over-the-counter medications that can help combat acid reflux. Always discuss new medications with your physician before starting a new regimen.

When to see a doctor

Though most cases of gagging do not require emergency treatment, prompt medical attention is necessary when your symptoms do not resolve on their own. See your physician especially if:

  • Your gagging has lasted for more than a week
  • You have had weight loss and/or night sweats
  • You have an existing respiratory condition or digestive issue and your gagging is worsening: Your physician may adjust or add a medication.

When gagging is an emergency

Seek emergency treatment if along with your gagging you experience the following. These may be a sign of a more serious condition:

  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • Productive sputum or blood
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

Tips

  • Don’t eat right before the activity that tends to trigger the gag reflex. This will minimize the chances of vomiting.

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  • Practice eating foods that make you gag. If you still gag, avoid the food.

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Gagging symptoms

The definition of “gag” or “gagging” is to suffer a throat spasm that makes swallowing or breathing difficult. Some people also associate “gagging” with dry heaving or retching, which is the sensation or feeling of vomiting without getting rid of any stomach contents.

These conditions are reflexes triggered when your airway closes while your diaphragm contracts. Gagging is often a normal defense mechanism your body uses to protect itself from potentially dangerous substances; however, sometimes gagging can signal a more serious underlying problem.

Cited by 1 article

  • A comparative study of propofol alone and propofol combined with midazolam for dental treatments in special needs patients. Lin IH, Huang MS, Wang PY, Huang TS, Chong SY, Chen SL, Tsai HH. Lin IH, et al. Medicine (Baltimore). 2021 Jun 4;100(22):e26199. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000026199. Medicine (Baltimore). 2021. PMID: 34087890 Free PMC article.

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