Phagophobia: Fear Of Swallowing (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & More)
Swallowing is a simple thing, right? We do it every day, sometimes unconsciously too, but did you know that swallowing is a complex process that involves the coordination of 50 pairs of muscles, nerves, your voice box, and especially your esophagus?
Such a simple process yet it could induce fear and anxiety in many. We never feel that anything could go wrong with swallowing food, water, or even pills, but for many people, the fear of something getting in your windpipe and blocking the airway could be a real fear which may subconsciously turn into a fear of swallowing or phagophobia.
Just like other specific phobias, Phagophobia, or the fear of swallowing is a rare phobia. Phagophobia (the fear of swallowing) should not be confused with pseudodysphagia (the fear of choking). The two phobias have a lot of differences.
For one, people with phagophobia fear the act of swallowing while people with pseudodysphagia fear that swallowing will cause them to choke.
Read on to learn more about what phagophobia is, its symptoms, its causes, and how you can treat the fear of swallowing.
What Is Phagophobia, The Fear Of Swallowing?
Phagophobia is the fear of swallowing or in other words, the fear of the act of swallowing. When someone struggles with the fear of swallowing, they might experience excessive anxiety and panic at the act of swallowing, even when they are not swallowing food, drinks, or pills.
Here are some common symptoms of phagophobia that you should be aware of;
- Anticipatory anxiety before eating or drinking
- Eating in small mouthfuls
- Drinking frequently during meals to help in swallowing
- Extreme anxiety and panic at the thought of swallowing
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased breathing
- Avoiding eating or drinking in front of others
- Having an all-liquid diet to reduce some anxiety about swallowing food
When phagophobia is left unaddressed and untreated, it can lead to a situation where a person may stop eating and drinking altogether for days. This can put them at risk of dehydration, malnutrition, and significant weight loss.
What Causes The Fear Of Swallowing?
The exact causes of phagophobia are unknown, however, experts believe that some factors could include past traumatic experiences and/or other underlying disorders. Some may also believe that having watched someone struggle with the fear of swallowing can also contribute to your fear.
Here are some common causes of phagophobia;
1. Fear Of Foods
Yes, it’s a real fear! Phagophobia can also be experienced by those who have food-related fears. This could include fear of specific foods or contaminated food.
2. Negative Experiences
If you’ve had a negative experience related to food such as choking, then it could lead to phagophobia. You may fear that it may happen again so the thought of swallowing can make you feel anxious.
If you struggle with fear or anxiety, in general, then it could make your throat close. Sometimes, the symptoms of anxiety can bring a “lump in the throat”, making it harder to swallow. If you fear swallowing, then you may be physically unable to swallow when you’re anxious. This can worsen your phagophobia and anxiety.
In the DSM-5, you can find phagophobia under the category of specific phobias. To diagnose phagophobia, you’ll need to consult a professional. If your symptoms have lasted for at least (or more than) 6 months and are causing significant distress in your daily life, then you could be diagnosed with phagophobia, the fear of swallowing.
A professional will also perform other examinations to rule out any other medical conditions that can cause trouble in swallowing.
They might also test for disorders such as;
- Eating disorders
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
Can Phagophobia Be Treated?
Just like other specific phobias, phagophobia can be treated with the right combination of psychotherapy and medication. Phagophobia can cause restrictive eating and can also cause greater health problems. Here are some ways phagophobia can be treated;
1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: CBT can help you identify negative thought patterns and teach you how to replace them and change your coping strategies. It can also teach you how to overcome distress and help you know more about your phobia.
2. Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR uses repetitive eye movements or hand tapping to reduce the anxiety or stress you feel while swallowing.
3. Exposure Therapy: This therapy involves gradual exposure to your fear under the guidance of your therapist, and slowly learning how to swallow foods or drinks without getting anxious.
4. Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy helps you enter a meditative state where you can focus better on the cause of your fear and how to work through them.
5. Medications: Certain medications can also be prescribed to help you reduce your stress and panic during swallowing. Antidepressants may also be prescribed to help with the symptoms.
How To Overcome The Fear Of Swallowing?
Other than therapy and medications, you can use simple coping tips to overcome swallowing anxiety and panic. Here are some tips to help you;
1. Healthy Distractions: You may find it helpful to watch TV or listen to music while eating or drinking to help you distract yourself from the thought of swallowing. Swallowing is an unconscious process so if you distract yourself, you may not be uncomfortable with the process.
2. Take Small Bites: Small bites of food or small sips of drink can also help you overcome the fear of swallowing. Taking small bites or sips may not feel as overwhelming as taking big portions of food.
3. Be Mindful: Eating mindfully means paying attention to what you’re eating. This can also include chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing. This can help you not feel anxious as you felt before.
4. Eat Soft Food: Soft foods irritate your throat less and are easier to swallow. Try eating soft foods and see which ones you’re most comfortable with. It might take some time to get used to the texture of the food but don’t give up.
5. Drink Plenty Of Water: If you fear swallowing food then it could be good to take small sips of water in between bites. This can also help ease your swallowing, making you feel less anxious.
Fear of swallowing or phagophobia is a real and valid fear, if not rare. With the right understanding of the fear and the right diagnosis, you can get the treatment you need to overcome swallowing anxiety.
I hope the above steps will help you overcome your fear of swallowing. For more, you can write to us at email@example.com or DM us on social media. You can also share your thoughts with us in the comments below.