Food Stuck in Your Throat? Here’s What to Do

Updated on March 18th, 2020
Food stuck in throat

Have you ever had the terrible experience of sitting down on a nice, sizzling piece of steak or a mouthwatering juicy burger, when suddenly, without warning, some of the food gets lodged in your throat? It’s not choking you, but it just sits there stubbornly despite your desperate attempts to cough it out! Then, you’ve probably experienced what is called ‘food bolus obstruction’ or the ‘steakhouse syndrome’.

Steakhouse syndrome is a condition wherein a mass of food or bolus gets stuck in the lower part of your esophagus. There are several reasons why this could happen. Common causative factors include inflammatory conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eosinophilic esophagitis, achalasia(1), eating too fast, not chewing your food thoroughly, ill-fitting dentures, or drinking too much alcohol.

According to a peer-reviewed journal article in Applied Radiology, the annual incidence of esophageal food bolus impaction is about 11 to 13 cases per 100,000 every year. However, most cases of food bolus impaction tend to resolve on their own(2).

Here are a few things that you can do if you have food stuck in your throat:

Natural Ways to Dislodge Food Stuck in Throat

1. Carbonated Beverage

Soda Drinks
Image: Shutterstock

One of the first things that you may want to try if you have food stuck in your throat is the ‘Coca-Cola trick’. Many believe that the carbonation from the soda can help relax the esophageal muscles, allowing the food to pass.

Things to Consider

  • Whenever you feel that the food is stuck in your esophagus, drink a can of soda or seltzer water.
  • Take small sips and don’t try to chug down the whole can in one go.
  • Be careful, however, not to drink too much of these fizzy drinks as you run the risk of aggravating your condition if the food obstruction is severe.

[ Read: Foods for Sore Throat ]

2. Try the Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich maneuver is a longstanding remedy for dislodging any obstruction from a person’s esophagus.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver?

In case you need to perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself, here’s what you should do:

  • Tighten your hand into a solid fist, then place the thumb of that hand below your rib cage and above your navel.
  • Use your other hand to then hold on to your first and press forcibly into the upper abdominal area in a rapid upward movement.
  • Additionally, you can lean over and thrust your abdomen against a chair, the edge of a table, or the railing of a staircase.
  • Repeat this motion until the object is dislodged.

If someone else is performing the Heimlich maneuver for you, they need to position themselves behind you with one foot slightly in front of the other and their arms around your waist. They then need to perform abdominal thrusts in a similar manner. If the person is not comfortable giving you abdominal thrusts, they can give you back blows too.

3. Sip on Herbal Tea

Honey for Constipation
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Several herbal teas can help with that painful sensation of having something stuck in your throat. Licorice root tea, for example, can help to reduce swelling and spasms and act as a painkiller for the gastrointestinal tract. Marshmallow tea(3) can smooth and moisturize inflamed tissues, while slippery elm is a powerful demulcent.

Ways to make it:

  • For licorice root tea, steep one teaspoon of the herb in one cup of hot water for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and drink. You can drink up to 2 to 4 cups a day.
  • For slippery elm, mix one teaspoon of the powder in one cup of water and drink 3 to 4 times a day.
  • To make marshmallow tea, steep 5 grams of dried root or 2-5 grams of dried leaf in 1 cup of boiling water. Strain and drink.

[ Read: Tea for Sore Throat ]

Beef, chicken, pork, and al-dente cooked vegetables are some of the foods that increasingly cause food bolus impaction.

4. Gargle with Saltwater

Rinsing with a warm saltwater solution is another quick remedy to relieve you when the food is stuck in your throat. This simple trick can help dislodge the food and alleviate any irritation in the throat.

How to Do This?

  • Add a pinch of salt (about ¼ tsp) to warm water and dissolve.
  • Gargle using this saltwater solution 3 to 4 times a day.

 5. Have a Banana or Other Soft Foods

Image: Shutterstock

The stickiness of bananas or other similar soft foods can sometimes make it easier to push down any food stuck in the esophagus.

How to Do This?

  • Take a bite of a banana or a spoonful of mashed yam and keep it in your mouth for a few minutes without chewing.
  • Once the food becomes moist, slowly swallow the food.

[ Read: Foods for Sore Throat ]

 6. Try Butter

Another helpful remedy for food stuck in the throat is simply to swallow some butter or olive oil. Although it may sound rather unpleasant, these fatty substances can provide some extra lubrication that makes it easier for the obstruction to slide down your throat.

How to Do This?

  • Take a tablespoon of oil or butter and swallow it.
  • If you don’t like the idea of swallowing oil or butter directly, dilute it in a glass of hot water and drink this warm liquid.

7. Wait It Out

So you’ve looked up different ways on how to dislodge food stuck in your esophagus, but you are not sure what to try? Then, don’t panic just yet! Sometimes in minor cases, the best solution is just to wait it out. Let your body do its thing! Given some time, the majority of food obstructions eventually pass on their own.

Bottom Line

Most mild food obstructions are no reason for worry. If, however, you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, a sudden inability to talk, difficulty swallowing your saliva or drooling, then you need to seek immediate medical attention.

To lower your chances of getting food stuck in your throat, ensure that you minimize distractions while eating. Chew your food slowly and carefully, and follow your treatment plan if your diagnosis suggests a condition that affects your esophagus.


1. How do you know if something is stuck in your throat?

The symptoms ideally include:

  1. Rapid, noisy, or heavy breathing.
  2. Pain in the neck, chest, and/or abdomen.
  3. Trouble and pain while swallowing, or complete inability to swallow.
  4. Increased drooling.
  5. Vomiting.
  6. Inability to eat solids.

2. What are the other ways to dislodge food stuck in the throat?

Apart from the remedies mentioned above, you can try

  • A moist piece of food
  • Baking Soda
  • Butter

3. Does food in the throat dissolve?

A carbonated drink may help break down food that’s stuck in the throat.  The bubbles that are produced help disintegrate the food and induce pressure, this effectively helps dislodge it.

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