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Choking Anxiety in Children: Causes and Effective Therapy in Orlando
GroundWork provides specialized CBT & ERP for children with choking anxiety in Florida, Maine, South Carolina, Vermont and Montana

Choking anxiety, also known as fear of choking, is a common issue that affects many children. It’s a type of specific phobia that causes intense fear and avoidance behavior related to the possibility of choking. In severe cases, it can lead to malnutrition, social isolation, and other negative consequences. Despite its prevalence, choking anxiety is often misunderstood and under diagnosed.

Causes of Choking Anxiety

Choking anxiety often stems from a traumatic experience related to choking, such as witnessing or experiencing choking or gagging on food. It can also be reinforced by parental anxiety and overprotection, as children learn to associate certain foods or situations with danger. In some cases, choking anxiety can be a presentation of other mental health related issues such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

Well meaning, but untrained therapists will diagnose children with choking anxiety with anorexia or an eating disorder; although a choking phobia will present with “disordered eating” it is usually significantly different than an “eating disorder”.

Symptoms of Choking Anxiety:

Children with choking anxiety may exhibit a range of symptoms, including refusal to eat certain foods or textures, excessive chewing and/or spitting out food, avoiding social situations that involve food, and expressing fear or anxiety related to choking. These symptoms can be mild or severe, and can lead to long-term negative effects on physical and mental health. Often children will ask for significant reassurance from their parents that they will not choke; although this may appear to help initially, often these interactions will eventually strengthen fears.

Common choking anxiety symptoms:

  • Refusal to eat certain foods or textures
  • Excessive chewing and spitting out food
  • Avoiding social situations that involve food
  • Fear or anxiety related to choking
  • Difficulty transitioning from one texture to another
  • Asking for significant reassurance from parents regarding choking
  • Weight loss (in severe cases)

Effective Therapy for Choking Anxiety in Orlando:

Non-invasive, evidence-based therapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and systematic desensitization can be helpful for treating choking anxiety. The goal of these therapies is to help children learn new skills to cope with their fears and gradually reduce their avoidance behavior. Treatment should also involve parental involvement in order to provide the support needed for successful outcomes.

Treating choking anxiety in children requires specialized care. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used therapeutic approach, and can be effective in helping children understand and manage their fear of choking. CBT typically involves cognitive restructuring, and exposure therapy (sometimes called ERP), which can help kids face their fears in a gradual manner. Its important to seek a therapist with specific training and expertise in this area so that the best treatment plan can be developed.

Family-based therapy, which involves parents in CBT, is also often used to help children with choking anxiety. This approach allows for more consistent progress and helps reinforce positive change at home. Therapist will also work with parents on decreasing reassurance which can often further increase a child’s fears.

If a child begins to loose significant weight due to the choking anxiety; therapists may suggest higher levels of care, or collaboration with a dietician or pediatrician.

Ineffective Types of Therapy for Choking Anxiety

It is important to note that some forms of therapy are not recommended for choking anxiety as they have not been shown to be effective in treating choking anxiety.
These include:

  • “Talk therapy” such as Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapies, which focus on uncovering unconscious conflicts
  • Art therapy or Music therapy
  • Group therapy, which can be a source of stress and anxiety rather than help
  • Body Image approaches such as mirror exposure
  • A therapist that provides reassurance “you won’t choke”
  • Relaxation training / breathing techniques
  • Avoidance of foods
  • Therapy that is not action oriented or goal directed (treatment should include homework, exposures, and parent guidance and support)
  • EMDR or EFT

Finding Help in Orlando

While choking anxiety is a real and serious concern, children can get help to manage their fear and live healthy, happy lives. With the right treatment plan, kids can learn ways to cope with their anxiety and develop new skills for dealing with challenging situations.

Choking anxiety is a common and potentially debilitating issue that affects many children. By understanding the symptoms of choking anxiety and treatment approaches that parents and health care providers can take action to prevent and treat this condition, promoting healthy relationships with food and mealtime. Seeking professional help from a specialist and implementing effective treatment early can go a long way in helping children overcome choking anxiety and resume leading happy and healthy lives.

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