Food Phobia Signs & Symptoms

Food phobia in children is primarily seen in pre- or early-pubertal ages. The condition is sometimes referred to “choking phobia” or  “functional dysphagia.” At Kartini Clinic prefer the more intuitive “food phobia” to describe sudden food refusal due to a fear of swallowing or choking. The following are some symptoms and characteristics of food phobia:

  • Often strikes younger children, both girls and boys a fear of swallowing, choking or vomiting

  • Complete refusal to eat and sometimes even to drink often associated with other anxiety disorders such as OCD

  • Responds well to combination treatment has a good long-term prognosis if it is treated.

To better illustrate how these symptoms can present themselves, the following is an example of a recent case of young boy with food phobia who came to Kartini Clinic for an assessment and treatment.

If this story sounds familiar, call us immediately at 971-319-6800 and speak to our intake coordinator. Children with food phobia can de-compensate quickly and it is essential to seek appropriate medical care immediately.

A Patient's Story

We'll call our young male patient Sean. Sean's mother, stepfather and father, gave Kartini Clinic permission to describe his treatment in our food phobia program. After an initial assessment Sean was hospitalized by our pediatricians, followed by 13 days of treatment in the Kartini PHP program (aka day treatment) to consolidate his gains from hospitalization and to ensure he would have no problem eating at home. Sean was nine years old at the time. Earlier in the year he had contracted a strain of strep throat that caused him severe nausea and abdominal pain.

His pain was so severe that he required a previous hospital stay (at another facility) with I.V. medication and fluids. This was very scary for Sean and on returning home he began to avoid food that he associated with his abdominal pain.  His normal childhood anxieties, spurred by a very active imagination, began to increase.  He worried that aliens might be inside of him causing the pain (he had seen something similar on TV). As an otherwise normal nine year old he had the cognitive ability to discuss his thoughts, something children his same age often are unable to do.  He began to complain of his throat “tightening up” and to have problems swallowing.  He said his saliva tasted odd and food did not taste right either. He worried that he might die. He had increasing difficulty eating and drinking and began to lose weight. Sean’s parents were naturally very concerned and took him to their pediatrician, who tried to talk to the boy about the importance of eating enough. Begging, pleading, positive reinforcement for eating and drinking, as well as negative reinforcement for not doing so, did not work. Nothing seemed to help. As Sean lost weight he became paranoid about being poisoned and his concerns about dying increased. He began to spit out his saliva and almost all fluids. He refused to play with his friends as he had before. At the time of his admission to hospital Sean was essentially refusing to swallow all foods and liquids. He complained of itching and stinging on his tongue. He would take small sips of 7-Up and small amounts of milk mixed with Carnation Instant Breakfast, but he was losing much more fluid than he could take in. The parents were at this stage quite desperate. Fortunately, Sean’s stepfather found us and learned their son had was is known as food phobia. He read our description of other cases and told me,  “it was as if you had lived with us….that was Sean you were describing!”

For more information about Kartini Clinic's food phobia program, please call us at 971-319-6800 and speak to our intake coordinator You may also submit an online request below.

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