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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.

Top 10 Gagging Causes

  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.

    You can safely treat this condition at home. Make sure you drink plenty of water and fluids (Gatorade, Pediatlyte) to replace what is lost with diarrhea. If symptoms of dehydration occur or you are unable to keep down any liquids, seek care at your primary care physician or an urgent care.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, headache, stomach bloating
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    hidden: gastroenteritis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    severe abdominal pain, throbbing headache, severe headache, tarry stool
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.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.

    You should visit your primary care physician if you get heartburn regularly. The doctor may be able to prescribe medications such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to reduce the acidity of the stomach. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food may help reduce heartburn as well.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, cough with dry or watery sputum, pain below the ribs, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.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.

    If your flu-like symptoms are existing for less than 48 hours, it might be helpful to seek care by telephone or in a walk-in-clinic to get a course of oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Most people will get better on their own by drinking lots of fluids and taking an over-the-counter medication such as acetominophen (Tylenol) to help with aches or fever.

    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
  4. 4.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.

    You can treat this at home with antacids. Many people find simple dietary changes to be beneficial such as avoiding spicy or fatty foods and drinking less tea or coffee.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, stomach bloating, bloating after meals, vomiting, pain below the ribs
    Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    hidden: dyspeptic symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    hidden: signs of upper gi bleeding, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.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.

    You can safely treat this condition at home. Make sure you drink plenty of water and fluids to replace what is lost with diarrhea. Eat as normally as possible. If symptoms of dehydration occur, or you are unable to keep down any liquids, seek care at your primary care physician or an urgent care.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, loss of appetite
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    hidden: gastroenteritis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    constipation, tarry stool
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Gagging Checker

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  6. 6.Bacterial Pneumonia

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

    You should go see a doctor within the next day since this diagnosis requires a chest X-ray in addition to a doctor's assessment. Treatment with antibiotics is important to keeping the infection under control, which can become dangerous if it spreads or worsens within the lungs.

    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
  7. 7.Intestinal Infection by Giardia Parasite

    Some intestinal illnesses are caused by parasitic infection. People can become infected if they swallow or swim in contaminated water or are exposed to infected feces.

    You should visit your primary care physician to evaluate your symptoms. It is likely that your physician will want to run tests on a stool sample.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, diarrhea
    Symptoms that never occur with intestinal infection by giardia parasite:
    anxiety
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own by resting, drinking fluids and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to alleviate fever and discomfort. If the condition lasts longer than a few weeks, or if your symptoms are worsening, you may want to see a doctor who may prescribe an inhaler or pursue other treatment options.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Lung Cancer (Non - Small Cell)

    Duplicate: Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, which usually grows and spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer. People with NSCLC have tumors in their lungs and may suffer from cough, chest pain, spitting up blood, and difficulty breathing.

    Duplicate: you should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate care with a cancer specialist (oncologist). Lung cancer is treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    cardinal symptoms of lung cancer like chest pain or changes in breathing, fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Common Cold

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

    The common cold is treated symptomatically. Since this is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective. You can safely treat the symptoms of this condition with over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, antihistamines & cough medicines.

    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
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

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.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?

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

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Gagging Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced gagging have also experienced:

    • 7% Nausea
    • 7% Cough
    • 4% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • People who have experienced gagging were most often matched with:

    • 14% Viral (Norovirus) Infection
    • 9% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
    • 9% Influenza

Gagging Checker

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

Take a quiz