Medical Specialty >> Pulmonology

Doctors Lounge - Pulmonology Answers

Back to Pulmonology Answers List

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Doctors Lounge ( does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her physician. Please read our 'Terms and Conditions of Use' carefully before using this site.

Date of last update: 10/19/2017.

Forum Name: Miscellaneous Chest Diseases

Question: Question about a breathing problem.

 Deana Lisi - Thu Dec 11, 2003 6:34 pm

Hi! Do doctors answer our questions, or is this forum just people talking about their problems? I have something very bizarre to ask;

Sometimes I'll take a bite of food, and within seconds I suddenly am completely unable to breathe. I can not take a breath no matter how hard I try, and the only remedy is taking a drink. This happens before I even swallow the food. After I take the drink, I can breathe again, and the weirdest part is, I can continue eating the food without it happening again! That leads me to believe that it's not an allergy. This happens with all kinds of foods; it happened yesterday after tasting cake batter! That time was the worse one ever; after I quickly got a drink, I should have been able to inhale again, but I nearly couldn't, and a loud noise emmited from my throat, like a strangled gasp. It makes no sense to me, and it's scary. It's happened from eating a gumball out of the old gumball machines, purple grapes, chocolate covered cherries, and yesterday's incident was fruitcake batter. Anyone have any idea? Is it possible that there's one particular thing in those foods that I'm allergic to, and I'm experiencing a 'mild' anaphylaxic reaction? The thing is, the fruitcake batter was made from scratch, not a cake mix; there was no preservatives or junk in it. I'd really appreciate an answer from someone, lol. I have no health insurance, so seeing a doctor is not possible for me.

Thanks very much!
 Dr. Tamer Fouad - Tue Dec 16, 2003 11:50 am

User avatar Deana,
It doesn t look like you have an anaphylactic reaction. It looks more like a behavioural or psychological problem. It is also known as phagophobia (fear of swallowing).

The treatment of choice is to find a good behavioral or cognitive behavioral therapist who can help you deal with this problem. Basically you want help to identify and challenge your anxious thoughts and how your anxious thoughts contribute to your fear. More importantly though, you want to unlearn your fear by gradually approaching the foods that are difficult for you to eat.

In behavioral treatment to overcome this kind of learned fear, you would be asked to make a list of foods that you currently can eat and what you cannot, then your therapist would help you to gradually approach the foods and situations that you fear. Typically people start by eating things like thin milkshakes and clear soups, work their way up through pureed fruit and soups, babyfood and very wet (soggy) cereal, and then gradually expose themselves to slightly less "liquid" and more chewy food, and finally things like toast, french fries, peanut butter and "dry" cereal. If there is no behavior or cognitive behavioral treatment available where you live, you could use the Panic Program to help you with this. Basically you want to expose yourself to eating for 1/2 hour or an hour per day, the way somebody else might have to expose themselves to driving or riding in elevators. It is a tough go, for sure, but it works. The secrets are to start out with foods that are doable right now (even if it isn't easy), and make sure your physician knows what is going on for you.
 Deana Lisi - Wed Dec 17, 2003 12:06 am

Fear of swallowing? I don't fear swallowing, LOL! I never have, and never will....this is a physical thing where I literally cannot draw breath. I start to chew the food, and wham, can't inhale. After I get my breath back, my voice is raspy for a short while. That right there proves that it's a physical thing...this doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's scary. There's nothing you can think of that can cause that?
 Dr. Tamer Fouad - Wed Dec 17, 2003 12:40 am

User avatar The point is its a psychological problem whether its related to swallowing or chewing, it doesnt matter. No there is nothing other than that, that I can think of.
 messalina - Thu Jun 23, 2005 11:26 pm

:roll: It's best that you not waste your money with insurance. I'm sure that if you went to a Dr. you'd get the same diagnosis. I'm equally as sure you'd scoff at it as well. I'm just a lay person and it seems obvious to me that you have a psychological problem.

Maybe you saw one too many episodes of "Fear Factor" or you almost choked to death in childhood and repressed it. Whatever has caused you to react at certain times in this manner is in your mind. The raspy voice afterwards is not a determining factor to prove the doctor wrong nor does it prove you right. The mind is a wonderful machine ... capable of taking over and defending you when you least expect it. And, without your knowledge. No dear, don't waste your money on insurance.
 Dr. J. Jennings - Thu Jul 07, 2005 6:24 pm

Before something is chalked up as being psychological, it is important to rule out more serious things. If you have trouble swallowing, this may be because a. there is a psychological problem with initiating swllowing (see above messages), b. there is a problem near the vocal cords (like vocal cord spasm - i.e. the food triggers the vocal cords and air flow stops. But it may be more serious, such as something partially ostructing the airway or even the esophagus (swallowing tube), such as a tumor. This is not likely, but I thought it would not be fair to say it's "all in your mind" without mentioning ome these more serious possibilities. You should see a doctor. If, for instance, he/she hears wheezing over your trachea, you may have something that an ear-nose-throat octor would nee to look at....

| Check a doctor's response to similar questions

Are you a Doctor, Pharmacist, PA or a Nurse?

Join the Doctors Lounge online medical community

  • Editorial activities: Publish, peer review, edit online articles.

  • Ask a Doctor Teams: Respond to patient questions and discuss challenging presentations with other members.

Doctors Lounge Membership Application

Tools & Services: Follow DoctorsLounge on Twitter Follow us on Twitter | RSS News | Newsletter | Contact us