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The Science Behind: The Gag Reflex

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

Now, this may sound weird, but I want you to take your (washed!) finger and insert it slowly into your mouth.

Keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing, and… did you feel that? What was that strange sensation?

That, my friends, was your gag reflex.

A gag reflex is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a reflex.

When someone throws a ball at you and you’re able to catch it, that’s your reflexes coming into play, protecting you from getting hit. Similarly, if that ball is stuffed down your throat, the body detects it as a threat and uses the gag reflex to, again, protect you from choking.

Simply put, the gag reflex acts as a defense mechanism for your body, making sure that you’re not ingesting anything too big or choke-inducing.

This mechanism primarily gets activated when a “physical stimulus” hits areas around your tonsils, tongue, and the back of your throat, but like all things, it varies from person to person. Some people may have extremely sensitive gag reflexes and have conditions such as hypersensitive gag reflex (HGR) where the slightest stimulus on the mouth can cause excessive gagging, while other people may not have even experienced such a sensation.

For some individuals, a mental trigger might just be enough. Simply thinking about something repulsive or sickening could lead to a stimulation of the reflex.

How does this “gagging” happen though? It’s all brain games, like always! When an object hits and stimulates the trigger points inside our mouth, the trigeminal and vagus nerves travel up to a part of the brainstem called the “medulla oblongata” which “signals the muscles in the back of your mouth to contract or push up,” pushing the object out of the mouth.

People, when reminded of something unpleasant (mental trigger), can activate a part of their cerebral cortex which transmits signals to the mouth for the gagging to take place.

The more articles I write, the more I learn about how much our body does for us. It’s truly amazing how our bodies go above and beyond to keep us all safe.

Anyways I hope you all had fun reading this article and learned something new! I’ll see you all next time!

Happy Learning,

Ishita Baghel



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