Swallowing your tongue

I remember reading novels set in an oriental-style culture where assassins would commit suicide by swallowing their own tongue, thereby suffocating themselves. Is this actually possible?

A quick Google gave this Kids Health site which seems to say that it is not possible - but that could well just be to avoid alarming the kiddies… perhaps it is possible, but very difficult. My next question was going to be whether it would be possible to swallow your tongue by accident, as I often get itchy Eustachian tubes and try to “scratch” the back of my throat with my tongue - which is what got me thinking about the topic in the first place - but I guess the above site puts paid to that one…

All comments welcomed.

:stuck_out_tongue: Grim

IANA Doctor, but as far as I know - No, it’s not possible to swallow your tongue on purpose.

Occasionally, after certain events (epileptic fits, smacks in the head, et cetera) people’s tongue muscles contract and the tongue will sort of roll right back into the back of the mouth / throat area. This is commonly called “swallowing your tongue”. If this happens, the people often black out from lack of oxygen and someone must put their hand in and pull out the tongue, at which point the patient recovers. Or doesn’t. Depending.

That’s about it on the tongue swallowing.

Other than swallowing, I have read that in some asian cultures certain martial artists would bite their own tounge off when captured to kill themselves. Saw it in a few badly dubbed Japanese martial arts films too.

I just took a First Responder/First Aid course through my work this week, and one of the EMT’s who helped teach the course stated that it is physiologically impossible for a person to swallow his/her tongue.

Also, she said that the practice of putting something (such as a wallet, belt or spoon) in someone’s mouth during a seizure has been abandoned.

Good answers - thanks folks!!


if i remember correctly gary linnekar (english football player) swallowed his tongue about 10 years ago

Survey has it right, it is nearly impossible for a person to swallow their tongue. If you are witnessing someone having a seizure, do not try to put anything in their mouths!!! Generally don’t even try to touch them, as it will put you and the victim at greater risk for injury (with all that thrashing about). Only touch or move them while seizing if there’s a clear and present threat to them (a car about to run them over, rolling into a pit, etc).


I am an epileptic and doctors say the worst thing to do is put ANYTHING in my mouth while I’m convulsing. As frightening as it looks the doctor says it is impossible for me to swallow my tounge unless I’m suffering an odd paralysis. So you’re looking at a 1 in over 10,000,000 chance of being able to swallow your tounge:)


Why shouldn’t you put something in their mouth, is it because of a risk of injury due to thrashing about, or is it because of some sort of damage caused by what you put in their mouth?

I would think that the wood (or whatever you put in the mouth) would also prevent the person from biting their tongue and swallowing the “chunk”, thereby choking on their tongue-this is just a guess though, and I’m a little more then just curious (my mother suffers from seizures (very rarely though).

Miggs lives!



For every single significant tongue bite that intervention such as you suggest will prevent, there will be 10,000 lacerated lips, torn gums, broken teeth, and penetrated soft palates. There will be hundreds of episodes of choking or asphyxiation (partial or to the death) on the objects that are inserted into the mouth, and there will be dozens of would-be rescuers who will not only suffer significant human bite wounds to their fingers, but also head trauma and sprained and broken joints and limbs from the involuntary flailings of the seizing individual.

The individual having something jammed in their mouth during a seizure would also have to be forcibly immobilized by the would-be rescuer(s), which also frequently results in significant injury to the patient.

All this to prevent biting the tongue? Tongues heal really, really fast, with extremely rare complications!

It ain’t worth it.

BTW, it’s very difficult to actually detach a portion of the tongue by biting it, unless you are willfully trying to do so. The tongue is one tough piece of meat. Involuntary clenching and unclenching of the jaw will certainly cause a few puncture wounds, but it’d be a real one in a million shot to sever a significant portion of the tongue completely off.

I have an incredibly long and flexible tongue and can voluntarily “swallow it” – get the whole thing to the back of my throat to the point where it’s no longer visible when I look in a mirror – with no ill effects, but I suspect that’s not what you mean?

If by swallowing you mean getting your tounge into your esophagus, then, no, you can’t swallow your tounge. You can occlude your airway if you’re flat on your back or slumped over, chin on chest, but your tounge isn’t swallowed, just in the way.

Thanks for the info Qadgop the Mercotan!

I’ve told this tale before, but not in here [I fink], I was dreaming one night [like you do] that I was chatting to my friend when all of a sudden I couldn’t speak because I needed to cough, but for some reason I couldn’t cough, I tried gesturing to my friend to slap me on the back, and she just looked at me, I became more and more freantic trying to get her to slap me on the back when she finally got the message and whalloped me and I coughed, and woke myself up, to discover I was lying in an awkward position with my head tipped right back, and my tounge had gone back in my throat and I was slowly choking myself … I had to actually stick my fingers in my mouth and pull my tongue forward

Lobelia Overhill: Just because you almost choked on your tongue doesn’t mean you should call yourself a fink.


LOL Derleth, but on this side of t’pond fink is how (some) people pronouce Think, although being Irish I should have said I t’ink :slight_smile:

And while I’m here, if you watch Jackass The Movie (go on you know you want to!) the bit where Knoxville is boxing Butterbean and he gets knocked out, while he [JK] is on the floor you can hear him “snoring”, he’s not snoring, he’s choking on his tongue …

In 1980, (I searched for a cite but to no avail) we had a young Rugby League player who went on to become very, VERY famous and captain the Australian National side.

He was only 18 at the time in a local Brisbane club competition game, and he was tackled really unfortunately and landed hard on his back and somehow, his toungue lodged in his airway. There were probably 10,000 people watching at the time. I remember seeing it on the TV news that night.

It was very distressing to watch at the time because he was obviously puffing real hard at the time and the next thing you saw was this young man wildly gesticulating to his mouth and throat as he lay on his back pleading with someone to basically save his life. Thankfully, the opposition player who tackled him recognised what was up and reached into the young mans mouth and yanked his toungue out. By that stage the young guy had passed out but he bounced back thank goodness.

True story.