Overcoming a sensitive gag reflex is possible only with gradual practice. In the meantime, employing certain techniques might be beneficial for you in swallowing pills or undergoing any dental procedure.
The gag reflex, also commonly known as the pharyngeal reflex, is a contraction of the throat that happens when something touches the roof of your mouth, the back of your tongue or throat, or the area around your tonsils.
This reflective action proves beneficial in the prevention of choking and saves us from swallowing potentially harmful substances.
Some people possess an overtly sensitive gag reflex as compared to others that can be triggered by things such as anxiety, postnasal drip, or acid reflux. Swallowing pills, oral sex or a trip to the dentist’s office can also bother those with an overactive gag reflex.
Stay with us till the end to know more about your gag reflex and the possible reasons behind it. We will also discuss the ways to stop or desensitize your gag reflex, at length.
What Is a Gag Reflex?
Your gag reflex triggers or hints to your oropharynx or the back throat to resist swallowing. This is helpful in preventing you from choking and swallowing the thing that might be dangerous or harmful.
Besides experiencing violent muscle spasms in your throat, gagging can also be followed by abdominal muscular spasms and make you feel nauseated.
Based on a review published in 2014, gagging reactions can also range from mild choking to violent retching and even vomiting.
What Causes Gagging?
Gagging is usually identified with the area closer to the oropharynx being touched or physically irritated.
Again, in a study conducted in 2015, your gag reflex has been proven to be a reaction that is a summation of many different other stimuli affecting or irritating your senses. These include:
An overly sensitive gag reflex can also be directly linked to a variety of conditions including:
Health issues such as acid reflux or multiple sclerosis
- Intense physical activity
- Strong or disagreeable odors
- Sensitivity or allergic reaction to certain liquids or foods
How To Stop Your Gag Reflex During Common Circumstances
There are a specific number of situations and scenarios where you are mostly likely to gag, including swallowing pills and undergoing dental procedures.
If we were to believe Harvard University, approximately 33% of people gag, choke or vomit when they try to swallow pills.
The Germany’s University of Heidelberg conducted research in 2014 and indicated success with two methods that might be beneficial in helping people who struggle with gag reflex while swallowing pills.
1. The Pop Bottle Method
Put the pill on your tongue.
Close your lips tightly around the opening of a bottle of water.
Close your eyes.
Drink by sucking the water from the bottle with your lips held tightly around the opening. Do not allow in any air.
The pill will travel down your throat with the water.
The technique proved to better the pill swallowing activity among 60% of the subjects in the study.
2. The Lean-Forward Method
Put the pill on your tongue.
Sip, but do not swallow some water.
Tilt your head forward, chin toward your chest.
Swallow the water and pill while your head is forward.
This method on the other hand proved to be comparatively more beneficial by enabling approximately 89% of subjects to swallow pills with experiencing severe gag reflex.
Approximately 50% of dental patients claim to gag at least once while undergoing a dental examination, as was found in a study conducted in 2014. There are multiple ways in which dentists enable their patients to stop their gag reflex to move further with the examination procedure smoothly. Two of those ways include:
Based on a study conducted in 2016, where people gagged while getting an impression made of their teeth, local anesthetic was successfully used to control the gag reflex. Before that 2015 study also recommended that tranquilizers can be used to bring down anxiety and tension, and consequentially also reduce the incidence of gagging.
In the same study made in 2015, the technique of distracting the patient primarily through conversation or physical positioning was also recommended as a beneficial method to avoid gagging for some patients.
Stopping The Gag Reflex with Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a complementary medical process that requires thin needles to penetrate through the surface of the skin at specific strategic points on the body.
Another study conducted again in 2015 recommended that acupuncture on 2 specific points might be effective in controlling or limiting the gag reflex for a short time, the first point being on the front of the wrist. The second point however is on the chin, just below the lower lip.
The Nitte University Journal of Health Science published a study review in 2014, suggesting that the most effective acupuncture points to control gagging are very location specific. It also recognized anti-gagging points on each ear.
As easy as it might sound, it is important to remember that acupuncture treatments should only be performed by an acupuncturist with a legally valid license.
Stopping The Gag Reflex with Acupressure
Acupressure on the other hand is a traditional Chinese therapy of applying only pressure on specific points in our body to address issues like stress, illness, pain, or discomfort.
People often tend to consider acupuncture as acupuncture without needles, which is not exactly true. A 2008 study also added that when pressure is applied to a specific point on the palm, it can alter and control the gag reflex.
One way of the best ways to apply this pressure is described in detail- as closing your left hand over your left thumb to make a fist. By squeezing your hand — not tight enough to cause pain — you put pressure on your thumb, which puts pressure on the targeted point.
How To Desensitize Your Gag Reflex?
You can successfully control, reduce or eliminate your gag reflex by eventually getting your soft palate used to being touched. One of the easiest ways is to use a toothbrush on your tongue:
Using a soft toothbrush to brush your tongue until you reach the area that makes you feel like you might gag. If you gag, you have brushed too far.
For about 15 seconds, brush that area.
Repeat the process once a day until you no longer feel the urge to gag begin. That area has been desensitized.
Then move the brush slightly further back ¼ to ½ inch and repeat the process, moving the brush further and further back until you come to your tongue’s farthest visual point.
The process of desensitization usually required about a month, is a comparatively longer-term remedy that has been proven to be beneficial for people with gagging issues. It can enable you to become used to gagging triggers including things like the new dentures that extend into the palate, medical throat swabbing, dentistry, and even oral sex.
Gagging can seem to make many situations uncomfortable and even embarrassing, from swallowing pills to visiting the dentist or having oral sex. As we have mentioned before, there are short-term methods too including methods like local anesthetic and acupuncture. Desensitization however is more of a long-term solution.
It is important that you never forget that your gag reflex is one of the ways in which your body is protecting itself, so it is always advisable that you consult your doctor about your wishes to control or eliminate it. They are the best sources to suggest treatments depending on your current health conditions, your medical history, and the current medications that you might be taking.