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.

A.I. Health Assistant

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

Take a quiz

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.

10 Potential Gagging Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Viral (Norovirus) Infection

    Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. These viruses cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Usually resolves within 2-3 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    severe abdominal pain, throbbing headache, severe headache, tarry stool, vaginal bleeding, alertness level change
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Viral (Rotavirus) Infection

    Rotavirus is a virus that causes an infection of the gut, known as gastroenteritis. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and fever. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Symptoms resolve on their own within a few days.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    constipation, tarry stool
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

    Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint. Every year, about 1 in every 4 people will experience an episode of dyspepsia, of which most cases do not have a serious underlying cause.

    These symptoms are likely to resolve, if they persist you should discuss this with your primary care physician.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    dyspeptic symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Normal Variation of Constipation

    Constipation is a very common condition affecting the large intestine. It is characterized by difficulty passing stool, or passing stool less often. Commonly it is linked to not eating enough dietary fiber, not drinking enough fluids, or not getting enough exercise. Some medications can cause constipation as well.

    Variable, but can resolve in days to weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, constipation, constipation
    Symptoms that always occur with normal variation of constipation:
    constipation
    Symptoms that never occur with normal variation of constipation:
    vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Gagging Checker

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

    Take a quiz
  6. 6.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Viral Pneumonia

    Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus. Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type, which is usually acquired in public areas such as at work, school, or grocery store.

    Symptoms begin to improve within a few days.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.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
  9. 9.Bacterial Pneumonia

    Bacterial pneumonia is the infection of the lungs with bacteria (as opposed to a fungus or a virus).

    1-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia:
    cough
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  10. 10.Hepatitis a

    Hepatitis A is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) and usually spreads through contact with infected blood. It can also spread through sex with an infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth.

    6 months

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    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.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?

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

Take a quiz

Gagging Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced gagging have also experienced:

    • 11% Nausea
    • 7% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 6% Cough
  • People who have experienced gagging were most often matched with:

    • 13% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
    • 7% Viral (Rotavirus) Infection
    • 5% Indigestion (Dyspepsia)
  • 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

Take a quiz