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Overview

In order to understand what throat-related issues stimulate a gag reflex, it's important to first discuss what this reflex is.

A gag reflex, also known as a laryngeal spasm or the pharyngeal reflex is a contraction that occurs in the back of the throat which is triggered by an object touching the back of the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the back of the throat, or the area around the tonsils.

The function of this reflex is to help prevent an individual from choking since the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems have a common route to them at the pharynx of the throat which starts to split at the epiglottis. The gag reflex also helps to moderate the transition from liquids to solid foods during the stages of infancy.

Possible Causes for an Increased Gag Reflex

Objects stimulating the back of the throat

Any food or object that is forcefully pushed to the back of the throat may cause stimulation of the gag reflex since this mechanism is intended to cause the body to expel anything that poses a danger to the respiratory system.

Therefore, any product or substance that irritates the tissue of the back of the throat is more than likely to cause the gag reflex to initiate and induce retching or vomiting.

Throat infections

Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections that involve the tissue of the pharynx or larynx in the throat may end up causing increased stimulation of the gag reflex.

With such infections, the soft tissue of the throat swells due to the body diverting blood to this area to introduce an increased number of white cells to fight off the offending organism.

This is referred to as an inflammatory process and it limits the space in the back of the throat which, in effect, results in a higher chance of stimulation of the gag reflex.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Also referred to by the acronym GORD, gastroesophageal reflux disease is a commonly occurring condition where acid from the stomach backwashes into the throat.

This is usually caused by excess acid being produced by the stomach or by a hiatus hernia, where a portion of the stomach slides through the lower oesophageal sphincter of the diaphragm thereby causing a dysfunctional mechanism that cannot keep stomach acid restricted to the organ.

When stomach acid reaches the throat, it irritates the surrounding tissue and this causes swelling which stimulates the gag reflex.

Other symptoms that can point to GORD include a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen, chest pain, a sore throat, having difficulty swallowing, a dry cough, and regurgitating liquids or foods which can also stimulate the gag reflex.

Smoking

Much like with GORD and throat infections, smoking can irritate the soft tissue of the throat or cause swelling of the pharynx or larynx.

Smoking also stimulates increased mucous production by the airways of the respiratory system which the body tries to clear by inducing coughing.

Coughing can also be stimulated by irritation of the airways by tobacco smoke and this action, if it becomes persistent, can also stimulate the gag reflex.

 

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