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How to Get Rid of Gag Reflex? (5 Harmful Signs and Symptoms)

gag reflex

Dr. Andreas

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Written by

Q.F. Nayibe Cubillos Morales


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Dr. Gustavo Assatourians D.D.S

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How to get rid of gag reflex? What is a gag reflex? What are the factors that trigger it? Does it have a function in the body? Is it possible to control this reflex? 

Nausea is an uncomfortable experience that occurs in reaction to various situations. Eating something spoiled, traveling by car or boat, and annoying odors are some of the circumstances that can cause this common and involuntary reflex. It is unpleasant for everyone and it can cause gag reflex.

Some of the answers that answer these questions are shared in this note.


What is a Gag Reflex?

A gag reflex is also known as the vomiting, emesis, gagging, or gag reflex. It is a natural and involuntary reaction that contracts the muscles of the throat in response to stimuli that originate in the central nervous system, triggered by different factors. It is the opposite reaction to swallowing.

a boy holding his throat

Generally, the sensitive points that trigger retching are the base of the tongue, the soft palate, or the back of the pharynx.

The medulla oblongata is the area of the brain that controls vital functions such as breathing, the heart, and blood pressure. When any of the provoking causes of the nausea reflex occur, the medulla oblongata sends stimuli to the abdominal muscles, the muscles of the esophagus, and the diaphragm, generating contraction and later vomiting.

A Gag Reflex has different stages:

 First, an unpleasant sensation is registered in the abdomen, and the reflex is activated.

 The abdominal muscles contract and pressure in the stomach increases, moving its contents into the esophagus.

 The diaphragm contracts, closing the glottis and preventing food or liquid from flowing back into the lungs.

 In the last stage, the muscles of the esophagus relax and expulsion is allowed.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Gag Reflex?

The frequent symptoms that show the activation of A Gag Reflex are:

1. Bad taste in the mouth

2. Tearing eyes

3. Excessive saliva

4. Feeling of panic

5. Perspiration or excessive sweating


Triggers of a Gag Reflex

Several factors trigger this reflex. Physical or psychological situations may be linked to an episode of nausea:

 Sudden changes in body position such as getting up quickly.

 Excessive consumption of work.

 Consumption of certain medications.

 The taste of spoiled or too spicy food.

 Stimuli on the soft palate, such as contact during tooth brushing or cleaning the tongue.

 Unexpected and sudden movements as when traveling by car or boat.

 Strong and unpleasant odors, such as ammonia.

 Ill-fitting dentures.

 Reflux due to heartburn or multiple sclerosis.

 Intense situations of stress, anxiety, depression, or fear.

 Gastrointestinal disorder.

In some people, a gag reflex is activated by perceiving odors that lead them to pleasant previous experiences. The case of people who manifest this circumstance during dental procedures is also presented.


What Function does a Gag Reflex have?

Although the experience is unpleasant, the consequences of these episodes are beneficial for overall well-being. The retching or nausea reflex protects the body from toxic substances that irritate the digestive system and facilitate its cleaning.


How to Get Rid of Gag Reflex?

Taking into account that this reflex is an alert against certain risks – it is a defense mechanism – it is not recommended to look to eliminate it. Instead, it is suggested to look for alternatives to reduce its frequency or intensity.

how to get rid of gag reflex

Some control actions that control a gag reflex: are deep, slow breathing, and taking small sips of water.

Regarding the activation of the reflex when taking pills, the University of Heidelberg (Germany) recommends two exercises to help control the situation:

 Place the tablet on the tongue, close the lips tightly around a bottle of water, and suck the water through tight lips, avoiding the entry of air. This will make it easier for the pill to go down the throat.

 Another exercise is to put the pill on the tongue, and drink a little water but do not swallow it. Then the head is tilted forward, bringing the chin to the chest; in that position, swallow the water.

Desensitizing the area gradually is another option to reduce the frequency of A Gag Reflex. You can use a toothbrush to reach the back of the mouth, where the nausea sensation occurs, and gently touch the area for 15 seconds. It is advisable to repeat this procedure once a day to gradually reduce the reflex.

Acupuncture is another therapeutic option that helps control the reflex, according to a study carried out by the National Library of Medicine in 2015.

Acupressure entails applying pressure with your fingers to specific points on the body to stimulate it to control this involuntary reaction. In 2008, the Journal of the American Dental Association noted 2008 that applying pressure to a specific point on the palm affects A Gag Reflex. Closing the left hand over the thumb of that hand applies pressure to the target point.

Treatment with anxiety medication is another alternative, but it must be prescribed by a health professional. For people who present the reflex during dental processes, the dentist generally uses a local anesthetic or other therapy that facilitates the procedures.

For milder cases, the dentist may suggest daily massages to progressively reduce this involuntary reaction. Also kitchen salt on the tip of the tongue is useful to reduce uncontrolled retching.


When Should you See a Doctor?

doctor having a patient

If you are vomiting, that is, A Gag Reflex is activated on some occasions, there is no cause for concern. If the frequency of these episodes is recurrent, it is necessary to consult the doctor. his may be alert for other health conditions that may require treatment.

In addition, the recurring reflex does not facilitate proper oral hygiene, with corresponding consequences on oral health such as halitosis, tooth decay, or gum disease.



1. Debs, N. N., & Aboujaoude, S. (2017). Effectiveness of intellectual distraction on gagging and anxiety management in children: A prospective clinical study /

2. Frothingham Scott (Marzo 16 de 2023) How to Stop or Desensitize Your Gag Reflex /

3. Goyal, G. (2014). Gag reflex: Causes and Management /

4. Iguera Valencia (March 29, 2023) What causes a swollen uvula? /

5. Kaira, LS, Dabral, E., Kukreja, HS ( 2014). Gagging a review. Journal of Health and Allied Sciences NU /

6. Rodeo Dental (s.f.) 7 Proven Tips To Get Rid Of Gag Reflex /


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