Need advice for overcoming or manageing gag reflex.

Nurses General Nursing


My wife will be graduating in December and wants to work in critical care/ICU. However, she has a very sensitive "gag" reflex that is activated primarily by smell (meaning looking at gross stuff doesn't really bother her, but combined with or by themselves noxious smells tend to make her gag). She fears that she will gag in front of a patient and be disiplined, and or fired (she said that she has just been lucky to this point in nursing school). Thus, far I have only been able to offer Vic's Vapor rub as a way of dealing with her problem. This helps, but it is difficult to apply in a time efficient manner, and you don't always know when a "gag" incident will occur (and it is effective for only a relatively short period of time). She says this occurs much more often in the morning when her sinuses/allergies are more active. Do you have any other advice? I have thought of behaviorally, based counseling as a long term solution. Are there any safe drugs that lower the sense of smell or lower the gag reflex (in the same way that certain medications help with motion sickness)? Are there any other "tricks of the trade" that might help keep her from gagging or at least from getting in trouble if she does? Is there anything similiar (but longer acting, and or more powerful) than Vic's which might be topically applied? I once suggested having her olefactory nerve clipped, but that seemed an unpopular suggestion (although I would like such a procedure myself to help with weight loss, since no smell= no taste which might equal weight loss).


2 Articles; 2,806 Posts

Little overkill here. Try some hypnosis.


388 Posts

She could keep a small handkerchief scented with a fragrance of her choice in her pocket. She could casually pull it out and "wipe her nose/face" with it when needed. There are a variety of strong essential oil fragrances that can be applied under the nose, purchased at places like The Body Shop.


6 Posts

I am a critical care nurse. I do not typically gag easily, but every once in a while I come across smells that are just too much. Pressing your tounge against the roof of your mouth is effective for some. We also keep peppermint oil in our department - a little dab under the nose will drown out most things.


1 Article; 3,037 Posts

Specializes in Medical.

I'm with Randy - gagging, in this context, is closely connected with perception and conditioning, so hypnosis is probably the most effective (and least otherwise-life-impacting!) option.

Roland, I know that anosmia is a rare side-effect of some drugs and head trauma, so maybe you could bang your head against a wall for a while. Let me know if you find it helps you lose weight :chuckle

Seems like way too high a price to me... :)


115 Posts

we used to put a small dab of perfume on the upper lip under the nose if an odor was strong. That worked ok. Being a guy I prefered to use pepermint spirits.

Actually now I just mouth breath now when an odor is strong. Your wife will not be the first nurse to gag at work , & unless it happens all the time she should be ok


784 Posts

Okay, let me summarize the advice:

1. Breath through the mouth.

2. Use pepperment oil on a kerchif when the smell is bad (although this would have some of the same issues as Vic's except you wouldn't have to worry if the stuff was visible like Vics)

3 Put the tongue on the roof of the mouth when a gag seems imminent.

4. Put Pepperment oil, and or perfume on the roof of the mouth.

How about working third shift in ICU rather than first or second? There should be less "gag" producing procedures. Furthermore, if she DOES gag there should be less people to see her (and therefore less chance of getting in trouble).

As for cutting cranial nerve I. I think that it might be a possible alternative to gastric, bypass surgery for some people. I wonder if artificial "crimps/lesions" could be placed on the nerve (probably right where it enters the nares by the superior turbinate) rather than severing the nerve outright. Other than the loss of smell and taste what would the downsides of such a procedure be? I'm certain they would be less than gastric bypass, but of course the procedure might not be as effective.


7 Posts

Now, let me get some clarification: You can be FIRED for GAGGING?

I mean gagging that's just occasional gagging and doesn't interfere with doing your job...???!!!

Specializes in CCU (Coronary Care); Clinical Research.

alcohol swabs are a quick and easy way to buy some they are always handy...


652 Posts

alcohol swabs are a quick and easy way to buy some they are always handy...

Ditto...we all have them in our pockets..easy to grab one and rub it under your nose :) I've even rubbed it IN my nose...yanno, when you have an odor that 'stays with ya' works.


1,711 Posts

Disciplined or fired for gagging? Whatever...

1 - Please never put perfume in your mouth - it was not created to go there.

2 - feces, gangrene, and staph infections do not smell any better at night.

3 - God gave us all 5 of our senses for a reason - He knows better than you, don't you think?

ktwlpn, LPN

3,844 Posts

Specializes in LTC,Hospice/palliative care,acute care.

I don't believe anyone can "get inot trouble" or be fired for gagging....Fretting over this is going to make it harder for her to control....When confronted with a really smelly situation she has to concentrate on not THINKING about exactly what she is breathing-some people say to breathe through the open mouth but that makes me gag...yuck-I imagine I can taste it.....anyway-No need to blow this out of proportion-even the most experienced of us have a problem from time to time.....

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