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Phagophobia — Fear of Swallowing Pills

Phagophobia: A Tough Pill to Swallow

Not all of us are foodies. Some of us have a questionable relationship with food. We may face various hardships with eating or swallowing something, even if it is our favorite meal on the plate. Even worse, when you’re ill, you find it extremely hard to swallow a pill. You may even be petrified of the very thought.

If you face these troubles, you might have phagophobia. Of all the things that are difficult to consume or swallow because of this fear, pills and medicines are the most common and cause the most dread.

If you’re worried about whether you can lead a normal life with this fear, put yourself at ease. Phagophobia is treatable. Let’s take a look at its causes and explore ways to cope with this condition.

Some Things You Need to Know about Phagophobia

Phago comes from the Greek word phageîn, which means to eat or to devour. Phobia means an irrational fear of an object. Together, the term phagophobia stands for an irrational fear of swallowing or ingesting food.

Besides food, this fear can also include the fear of swallowing pills, liquids, or anything that passes through the throat and can lead to choking.

Phagophobia is a rare phobia, but just like any other phobia, it has a similar set of symptoms. Similar events may cause it. It also has similar treatment options available which you’ll discover below.

Phagophobia Causes

Wondering what causes phagophobia? Various factors give rise to phagophobia.

Sometimes you can develop this fear from watching others who are experiencing it. If you’re continually exposed to someone who suffers anxiety each time they swallow a pill, you are likely to develop the same fear.

Past traumatic experiences with swallowing food are also a common cause of phagophobia. Maybe you have had difficulty eating food in the past or maybe you choked on a piece of food at some point in your past. Such events can trigger negative responses in the future. An intensive medical procedure involving the throat can also trigger phagophobia.

A family history of anxiety, depression, or any other mental disorder also increases your chances of developing phagophobia. This applies to all phobias.

Living with Phagophobia

Most people tend to confuse phagophobia with pseudodysphagia. People suffering from the latter are afraid of choking when they swallow something. However, those who have phagophobia are afraid of simply swallowing anything, including pills and medicines.

Living with phagophobia can be harmful to your physical and mental health. Taking medicines and pills becomes tricky, so if you are going through an illness that requires you to take pills, your fears get the better of you. This prevents you from taking medication as advised, further slowing down your recovery. You may be able to take some medications in liquid form, but others not.

Secondly, phagophobia is not just limited to pills; it is the underlying fear of swallowing. This can affect your relationship with food, trigger negative emotions while having a meal, and cause you to develop further fears related to food.

Living with phagophobia can have a negative outcome on your daily life. It can affect your lifestyle and daily routine. When you become fearful of food, it can result in a lot of damage to your mental and physical health.

Phagophobia Symptoms

You may experience a set of psychological and physical symptoms which will help you identify whether you have phagophobia. We have listed some of the most common symptoms below:

Psychological Symptoms

  • Hampered relationship with food.
  • Eating less than required.
  • Drinking excessive water to stay full and avoid swallowing.
  • Staying away from social situations that involve meals and food.
  • Avoiding any form of medicine or pills.

Physical Symptoms

  • Excessive sweating.
  • Anxiety.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Palpitations.

Self-Help: How Do You Deal with Phagophobia?

How does one overcome a fear of swallowing pills?

You can overcome this fear just as you would any other specific fear. The first step is to accept that your fear exists.

Try to get closer to your fears and encounter them more often. This way you will get used to the source of your fear. Gradually, the intensity of the fear may reduce and you will be better able to cope with it.

Another important way of dealing with your fear is by reaching out for help. There is no shame in discussing your fears with people who have your best interests in mind. You may do this with a friend, a family member, a support group, or a professional therapist.

Talk to anyone who makes you feel comfortable and acknowledges your feelings and emotions without judgment. You can also talk with others who suffer from the same fear and discuss your symptoms and how you feel.

Professional Help – Phagophobia Treatment

There are no specific treatments designed to cater to phagophobia. However, you can adopt plenty of standard therapy options to treat your phobia.

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: This is a common method that reduces the stress swallowing can cause through interactive psychotherapy techniques.
  • Exposure therapy: This is another option through which your therapist will gradually expose you to your fear until you get comfortable with swallowing.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This is the most frequently employed method through which you identify your negative behavioral patterns. Your therapist will help you replace them with more positive alternatives.

How to Cope with Phagophobia

The most crucial step to coping with phagophobia is having a stable relationship with food. Stay calm and composed whenever you come across food items or pills that you have to swallow, so that your fears and anxiety don’t escalate.

You can apply the following coping mechanisms when dealing with food items and pills:

  • To make the swallowing less intense, distract yourself by watching television or listening to music.
  • When you have to swallow pills with water, do so quickly without giving it much thought.
  • For easier swallowing, take smaller bites of your food and smaller sips of your liquid.
  • If pills are too large to swallow, some can be crushed and mixed with water or broken into smaller pieces before consuming. Follow labeling instructions; not all pills should be cut or crushed.
  • Chew your food thoroughly, at least 30 times, so that it breaks down in your mouth with the help of your saliva. This can further ease swallowing.
  • Drink plenty of water when you swallow pills.

Our Final Words

We hope you’ve found something here to help you take pills without being fearful of swallowing them. If you don’t find relief despite trying all the self-help methods, seek professional help without delay.

There could be severe implications to not coping or dealing with this phobia promptly. Based on the severity of your symptoms and your fear, seek help. Before long, taking medication or enjoying your food won’t be a hard pill to swallow.

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