How to overcome a fear of choking

Written by eric feigenbaum
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How to overcome a fear of choking
People with a fear of choking often avoid food and drop body weight. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Phobias are magnified, powerful and often paralysing irrational fears. Although they sometimes stem from a trauma such as being attacked by a dog leading to a phobia of dogs or getting stuck in an elevator leading to claustrophobia, phobias frequently have no specific cause. When phobics are exposed to the object of their fear, they can become hysterical or panic -- often to the point of having symptoms that mimic a heart attack. The fear of choking is a specific phobia that can cause sufferers to avoid food and develop excessively low weight. Luckily, effective treatments exist.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    See a cognitive psychologist or therapist who can work with you on behavioural techniques such as desensitisation. Cognitive therapists work with patients on strategies to overcome their fears. In the case of people who fear choking, this may involve practicing swallowing, moving from soft and liquidy foods like soup to small pieces of solids to entire meals. This type of therapy focuses on techniques to get past fear, rather than deal with the causes of a phobia.

  2. 2

    Begin psychotherapy to deal with the root causes of your phobia. This works best if you know of a specific trauma that triggered your fear. Working through the emotions and issues of your trauma may help you overcome the psychosomatic symptoms that developed in the form of fearing choking.

  3. 3

    Hire a hypnotherapist. Many people find greater success through the relaxed state of a hypnotic trance. Trained, licensed hypnotherapists help people work through their fears by helping getting past the defences of the conscious mind and trying to work with patients' subconscious minds. Under hypnosis, some patients find they are better able to discuss and deal with their fears. The hypnotherapist then leaves them with hypnotic suggestions to help carry over new perspectives and attitudes into their daily lives.

  4. 4

    Undergo neuro-linguistic programming. This form of behavioural treatment focuses on helping patients examine their perceptions of their world, how they come to their conclusions and how they may want to adjust their perceptions to become more successful in their lives. Therapists help people find alternate viewpoints that might allow them to release their fears of choking.

  5. 5

    Visit a clinical speech language pathologist for swallowing treatments. Normally, clinical SLPs work with dysphagia patients and those with poor oral motor skills to chew and swallow better. Although someone with a fear of choking may not be physically impaired in any way, lessons and treatment from an swallowing specialist may give him the confidence to overcome his fear.

  6. 6

    Talk to your dentist about your fears before undergoing dental treatment. Some people experience a fear of swallowing specific to dental work. Dentists trained in working with anxious patients can make adjustments to equipment, chair positioning, medication and patient education designed to address patient fears. Some dentists train in anxiety-reducing techniques such as guiding patients through meditation or hypnosis to ease their anxieties. Fear of swallowing in the dental chair is an issue dentists see frequently and understand.

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