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Last updated November 21, 2017 originally published December 27, 2016

By Ariadne Weinberg,  Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of
our Editorial Board]

That feeling of first choking on food is a nerve-wracking
one. You feel as if you're going to die from an innocent
piece of food lodged into your throat or someone will have
to perform the Heimlich maneuver, all Hollywood-dramatic.
You panic and become embarrassed.

Most of the time, it's nothing. Maybe you weren't paying
attention, or you hadn't drunk enough water, or you were
trying to swallow too much at once. Usually, it falls into an
innocuous enough category. However, if it's something
chronic, you'll want to identify the cause and see just
exactly what's going on there.

The technical term for swallowing difficulty is dysphagia.
Swallowing is usually divided into three stages: oral,
pharyngeal, and esophageal.

The causes of disruptions are divided into oropharyngeal
and esophageal.

Neurological dysphagia is a common occurrence,
accompanying more serious disorders, such as stroke,
brain tumors, brain injury, bulbar and pseudobulbar
paralysis, neurodegenerative diseases (amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis, multiple sclerosis), tabes dorsalis, multisystem
degenerations, Parkinson's disease, delayed dyskinesia,
Huntington's disease, myasthenia and myasthenic
syndromes, myopathies and peripheral neuropathies,
according to a 2006 report by J. Olszewski from the
Medical University of Lodz in Poland.

However, there are many reasons why you might have
difficulty swallowing: a narrowed esophagus, esophageal
tumors, gastrointestinal reflux disease, scleroderma
(development of scar-like tissue), or cancer and radiation
therapy. It could, however, simply be that you are choking
on food for no particular motive; an everyday glitch.
Whether your condition is more or less serious, read on to
find some good management methods when you feel that
choking sensation.

Change the Way You Eat

Experts at the Palo Alto Medical Center recommend a few
changes you can make, without medication or treatment,
but simply with small actions.  Instead of eating big meals,
you can try eating small ones more often.

At mealtime, cut food into small bits and eat slowly. With
your drinks, it may be more effective to switch to thicker
liquids like milkshakes or smoothies, and skip the thinner
liquids like coffee and juice. Liquids, overall, are more
difficult to swallow than solid foods.

Favor thicker soups over thinner ones. To thicken soups,
add a scoop of rice. It will make it easier to swallow
without chocking and, studies show, it will also help to
make you feel fuller longer.

Get Enough Magnesium to Lower Risk of Choking

A lack of magnesium, oddly enough, is present in a variety
of human pathologies. Dysphagia is no exception.

According to the book Advances in Magnesium Research by
P.J. Poor, Mihai Nechifor, and Jean Durlach, it's typical for
magnesium deficiency to affect bronchial and pharyngeal

You can take magnesium citrate, which will relax the
esophagus to make swallowing easier. 250-1000 milligrams
is the generally recommended amount.

Of course, you should consult your doctor to see how
much you should take. There is also the option of
incorporating more magnesium-rich foods into your diet.
Some common daily munchies with magnesium include:
Banana, avocado, dark chocolate, black beans, and

Get a Facial Massage

It sounds a bit strange when it comes to choking and
swallowing, but tight facial muscles and excess pressure on
nerves can actually make the process of eating more

Massage can help loosen up the swallowing muscles,
according to many reports.

Myofascial release in particular (a kind of deep tissue
massage) can help to make it more easy to swallow and
improves the tongue mobility for chewing and managing
the food.

Many medical professionals, including Donna Killon, a
Pennsylvania-based speech language therapist, recommend
using the John F. Barnes myofascial release technique.

Pay Attention

According to Dr. Clark Rosen, professor of otolaryngology
at the University of Pittsburgh, choking is often a cognitive
issue if not due to some serious condition

The person swallowing isn't fully awake or they are

And that's a problem, because swallowing is actually a
complex process. While getting food through your belly
and to your throat should be an easy process, swallowing
takes more than 30 muscles in and around the throat to
complete the action, and takes less than one second.

The chunk of food must be a manageable size to be pushed
to the back of the throat, where it either lands in the
trachea or esophagus (preferably in the esophagus to
avoid choking).

While all this should be automatic, if you're really off in
your own world thinking about something else, you could
mess it up.“There's a mental component,” affirms Rosen.
“You have to know that you’re getting ready to swallow.”

Do the "Chin Tuck" to Learn Better Swallowing Technique

If you have a more chronic problem with choking on food,
the best may be to learn techniques from the professionals.
There are various strategies; oftentimes speech language
pathologists will teach you to strengthen weak facial
muscles, improve coordination, or learn to eat in a special

According to experts at the National Institute on Deafness
and Other Communication Disorders, some common
exercises may be to eat with your head turned to the side
or straight ahead.

Learning how to do a “chin tuck”, tucking your chin so
food and other substances don't get into the trachea when
swallowing, could be another option.

Try Licorice or Other Natural Herbal Remedies

Before you try any invasive procedures or pharmacy-based
medication, experiment with herbs.

Of course, consult with your doctor for any side effects
first, but many could work or at least not have any negative

One of the classic herbal remedies for dysphagia is licorice
(Glycyrrhiza glabra).

When Britiish archaeologists discovered King Tut's tomb in
1922, they found something curious among the treasure
trove of gold and precious jewels ---licorice. Licorice has
been used since ancient times to improve the ability to
swallow. Scientists from the University of Maryland have
found that licorice reduces throat spasms and inflammation,
making it easier for you to swallow and reduces your risk
of choking on your food.

The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends 250
milligrams of the herb three times a day. By taking licorice,
you can reduce both spasms and inflammation, as well as
calm the gastrointestinal tract.

Drinking marshmallow (Althea officinalis) tea could be a
comforting ritual to ease your throat, too. Put 2-5 grams of
dried leaf or root in one cup of boiling water.

Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) is another classic; it soothes
irritated tissues and promotes healing. 60 milligrams is the
average dose.

Other frequently recommended herbs for dysphagia
include: linden flowers (Tilia cordata), valerian (Valeriana
officinalis), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum),
skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and wild yam (Dioscorea

Again, talk to your health professional to see which herbs
would work best for you and which dosage is

7. Do Acupuncture

There are various reports on acupuncture improving the
conditions of people with various kinds of neurogenic
(nervous system based) dysphagia and serious post-stroke

A 2012 study by Sze-ling CHAN at the Chinese University of
Hong Kong (and published in the Journal of Traditional
Chinese Medicine) demonstrated that acupuncture has the
potential for reducing neurogenic dysphagia.

A total of 87 patients were tested, and divided into three
groups. The acupuncture group, the sham acupuncture
group (non-acupuncture points were used), and the
control group. 20 acupuncture treatments were performed
over a 45-day period.

The acupuncture group responded significantly better, with
the levels of food and fluid consistencies. The researchers
affirmed,“This study demonstrates that acupuncture may
have therapeutic effects and long-term efficacy for
neurogenic dysphagia.”

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Licorice can help to reduce choking.