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The fear of choking, also known as pnigophobia, is a relatively common phobia. Some may be fearful of choking during a panic attack, as a tightness in the throat or chest is common during these episodes, or they may have a generalized fear of being choked or smothered. The exact number of sufferers is hard to pinpoint, but it is widespread.
Sometimes the fear of choking occurs alongside another fear, such as fear of small spaces or claustrophobia. Other times, the fear of being choked or smothered comes as a result of having almost choked previously, due to choking on food or being attacked. Still, other times, a fear of choking occurs because of the choking sensations many people experience during a panic attack or anxiety episode. Since panic and anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness, fear of choking to some degree probably occurs more often than experts realize.
Those who have experienced choking may have the hardest time with their fears, as they can generally remember the sensations of not being able to breathe very clearly. If a sufferer was choking at the hands of another, their fears can be accompanied by a distrust of people and society, which may lead to delays in getting treatment. Fear of choking caused by these circumstances is often accompanied by other fears and anxiety because the person is not only dealing with a phobia, but also with coming to terms with past abuse.
There are several potential treatment options which may help alleviate a fear of choking. Therapy with a trained counselor is generally required, as he or she can provide coping mechanisms to use during feelings of fear of panic, and may even offer insight into what may have caused the phobia to begin with. Cognitive behavior therapy may also be used. This is when a patient purposely experiences or visualizes a scary event in order to lessen its effect over time.
Other methods which may help treat a fear of choking include prescription anti-depressant medications, hypnotherapy, or acupuncture. Certain vitamins and minerals and dietary options may also help with symptoms. Exercise is another good option, since it helps to release “feel good” endorphins and hormones into the bloodstream, both of which help to combat feelings of anxiety.
If the fear of choking is accompanied by panic attacks, depression, or suicidal thoughts and tendencies, medical help should be sought right away. Anxiety disorders and phobias can range from mild to very severe, with some patients having debilitating forms of the disorders that can impact every aspect of their lives. These people may need extensive therapy, various medications, and long-term counseling in order to overcome their phobias.