Is a Fear of Choking Common?

Erin J. Hill

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.

Some people may be fearful of choking during a panic attack.
Some people may be fearful of choking during a panic attack.

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.

The fear of being choked may be due to a prior attack.
The fear of being choked may be due to a prior attack.

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.

Acupuncture can be used to treat a fear of choking.
Acupuncture can be used to treat a fear of choking.

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Discussion Comments


@Buster29- I didn't grow up with a fear of choking on food, but I did grow up with a fear of being choked by others. I had a friend who was a few years older than me and a whole lot stronger than I was. He started horsing around and got me in a choke hold from behind. I don't think he meant to cause real pain or anything, but the minute I realized I couldn't breathe, I went into panic mode. I used every trick in the book to get him to let go, including kicking and gouging and scratching. It felt like my life honestly depended on breaking his hold on me. He wasn't my friend at the time, he was someone who wanted to kill me.

I've always had a phobia of being pinned down or trapped in a small space, and part of it was the fear of losing air. If someone ever pinned me to the ground as part of a wrestling game or locked me in a closet, I would freak out completely. My parents finally took me to get professional treatment for panic attacks and phobias. I had to go through some desensitization exercises in order to get over the fear of having people restrain me or put me in a choke hold. I also learned how to avoid having panic attacks inside closets and elevators.


One of my earliest childhood memories involve choking on a piece of liver. I remember trying to chew it, but it started going down my throat before I could stop it. I couldn't swallow it, and it was too far down to spit it out. I was definitely choking, and I started panicking. My mother managed to reach in and pull it out of my throat, but it took at least a minute. I honestly thought I was going to die.

Ever since then, I have had a serious fear of choking, especially on food. I rarely eat foods like steak or liver these days, but when I do I have to cut them up into very small pieces on the plate. I also have to make sure I have plenty of water or other beverage available in case I can't swallow my food. For the most part, I lead a normal life and I don't have panic attacks, but there are times when I will pass up a meal rather than risk choking on it.

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