Q: My five-year-old has always had a strong gag reflex. Trying foods with coarse textures, smelling odours she finds unpleasant, even blowing up a balloon will trigger it. She gets embarrassed when it happens in public.
A: The gag reflex is important because it ensures food does not get into our airways, and prevents us from choking. That said, it’s a good idea to have your daughter’s doctor perform a neurologic exam to ensure her reflex is completely normal. If gagging causes her to regurgitate food, the doctor should also check for reflux.
If all is well from a physical standpoint, you can try an occupational therapy exercise to desensitize your daughter’s gag reflex: Move a soft toothbrush over your daughter’s tongue to see where her gag begins. Then touch the toothbrush to this spot over several days until the gag decreases. Be careful: You don’t want her to lose this tendency altogether because it is a safeguard against choking.