Read below about gagging, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your gagging from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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/feeling of vomiting without expulsion 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.

Symptoms that can be associated with gagging may include:

It is important to follow up on your gagging symptoms with your physician in order to get appropriate diagnosis and care.

Gagging Causes Overview

The proximal airway (or upper respiratory system) is composed of the nose, mouth and throat. It connects to the lower respiratory system that includes the trachea, lungs and segments (bronchial tree) that bring oxygen to these areas.

Gagging can be caused by any irritant that enters the airway and aggravates the lungs and bronchial tree. These irritants cause the airway to close-off as a means of protecting the body from potentially dangerous elements. Oxygen is temporarily blocked from coming into the body and in turn, the diaphragm contracts as a means of allowing the lungs to expand and let in oxygen, even though there is none actually coming in.

Following are specific conditions that can predispose and cause symptoms of gagging.

Gastrointestinal Gagging Causes

The digestive tract is composed of acids and enzymes for digesting food. The digestive tract is designed to be able to withstand these substances; however, the airway and esophagus are not accustomed. The stomach is meant to keep these acids from moving back up through the esophagus and causing irritation; however, these processes are not always perfect. When partially digested foods or acids improperly go back up the esophagus (GERD), symptoms such as discomfort, difficulty breathing, heartburn and gagging can result.

Infectious Gagging Causes

The respiratory tract is extremely susceptible to infection due to its direct contact with the environment.

  • Viral. Viral infections can produce mucus in the airways that drips down the back of the throat triggering gagging. The common cold and flu are examples of a viral infections that can be associated with gagging symptoms.
  • Bacterial. Bacterial infections can cause more severe upper and lower respiratory issues than viral infections. In addition to gagging or retching, bacterial infections are often associated with high fever, chills, difficulty breathing, and coughing up blood.

Environmental Gagging Causes

Just as bacteria can easily enter the upper respiratory tract, other substances from the environment (either intentionally or unintentionally) can enter the body and cause gagging.

  • Exercise. Exercising at high intensities can cause your diaphragm to contract, which in turn can lead to gagging. Exercising on a full stomach is especially triggering and can also result in gagging.
  • Medication. Nausea, though not completely understood, can also trigger your body to gag. Certain medications used to treat anxiety, depression and other conditions can cause you to feel nauseous and as a result gagging can be an unfortunate side effect.

Mechanical Gagging Causes

  • Obstructive. The presence of a structure blocking the airways can cause gagging because your body is attempting to clear out the offending source. Choking on foreign bodies are often the culprit for this type of gagging cause, especially in children.
  • Functional. Diseases that weaken the coordination of the respiratory tract and muscles used for swallowing can make it difficult for your body to clear irritating substances, often leading to painful gagging and dry heaving.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Gagging

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced gagging. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Foreign Body Ingestion

    When a non-food object is ingested, it can have unpredictable and potentially dangerous effects on the body.

    Whether the foreign object is removed, or allowed to pass through the digestive system, symptoms should resolve within a few days.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    vomiting, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone, trouble swallowing, swallowing of something potentially harmful, gagging
    Symptoms that always occur with foreign body ingestion:
    swallowing of something potentially harmful
    Symptoms that never occur with foreign body ingestion:
    choking
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  2. 2.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  3. 3.Retropharyngeal Abscess (Adult)

    Retropharyngeal abscess is a collection of pus in the tissues in the back of the throat. It is a potentially life-threatening medical condition.

    Good prognosis if caught early

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, loss of appetite, fever, shortness of breath, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Gagging Checker

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  4. 4.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    With proper treatment, symptoms may be relieved within days & at most several weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, pain below the ribs, cough with dry or watery sputum, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Guillain - Barre Syndrome

    Certain immune system conditions can damage the peripheral nervous system (PNS) which connect the brain and spinal cord with the rest of the body.

    This is a chronic condition.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, shortness of breath, constipation, general numbness, spontaneous back pain
    Symptoms that always occur with guillain-barre syndrome:
    progressive weakness
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  6. 6.Inflammation of the Epiglottis

    Epiglottitis is inflammation of the epiglottis, tissue that covers the trachea (windpipe), which helps prevent coughing or choking after swallowing. It is usually caused by the bacteria H. Influenzae but can also be caused by other bacteria or viruses that cause upper respiratory infections.

    Few hours to days

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, shortness of breath, fever, sore throat, pain with swallowing
    Symptoms that never occur with inflammation of the epiglottis:
    cough
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  7. 7.Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Als)

    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. This progressive, neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells.

    Lifelong

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, difficulty concentrating, difficulty walking, hoarse voice
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Gagging Treatments and Relief

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

  • Smoking Cessation : Smoking is a major irritant and damager of 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 doctor before starting a new regimen.

Though most cases of gagging do not require emergency treatment, prompt medical attention is necessary when your gagging symptoms do not resolve on their own: See your doctor 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 doctor may adjust or add a medication.

Seek emergency treatment if along with your gagging you experience:

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

This may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Gagging

  • Q.Did you swallow something that could have caused your symptoms?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Have you vomited?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our gagging symptom checker to find out more.

Gagging Quiz

Gagging Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced gagging have also experienced:

    • 11% Nausea
    • 6% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 5% Cough
  • People who have experienced gagging were most often matched with:

    • 38% Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)
    • 33% Retropharyngeal Abscess (Adult)
    • 27% Foreign Body Ingestion
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having gagging

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