Some of the most frightening experiences I've ever had were when food got stuck in my throat and I couldn't breathe. I've had the Heimlich Maneuver done to me a few times and have had to go to the hospital once I could breathe, but couldn't get the food to go up or down. The doctors injected me with Valium; when that didn't work on one occasion, they had to mechanically push down the calcium pill that was stuck. (Calcium causes muscle contraction; that may have had something to do with it being stuck so badly.) Since I seem to have found something that has ended my trouble swallowing food, I'm sure you'll understand why I feel like I've found the holy grail.
A few years ago, my swallowing problem got to the point that food was getting stuck in my throat a couple of times a week. A gastroenterologist did an endoscopy and found an esophageal ulcer, or hole in the lining of my throat. Food and phlegm were getting stuck there. I also had an acute infection of H. pylori, the bacteria that causes most stomach ulcers, and acid reflux. For some people, an esophageal ulcer or damage from acid reflux may be the cause of their trouble swallowing.
When I asked the gastroenterologists' nurse what caused someone like me, a thin person who ate small, low-fat meals, to have such bad reflux, she said, "Nobody knows." That's not true. Back in 1972, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution stated, "Nothing clears up on this diet [the Atkins Diet] more predictably than does heartburn."(1) Indeed, a low-carb diet cured my GERD, or heartburn, this year.
Nevertheless, I was still left with trouble swallowing even after the ulcer healed. Then I tried taking epsom salts for, ahem, a condition at the other end of the GI tract. Sausage, lettuce, fish, bacon--foods that used to get stuck regularly--all went down smoothly when I used the epsom salts. When I stopped, food got stuck again.
According to some abstracts of medical papers I've read, epsom salts reduce or even stop peristalsis, the muscle action involved in swallowing. It seems counterintuitive that epsom salts would help swallowing--unless the muscles in the throat are too tight. Magnesium, which along with sulfer is part of epsom salts, is a natural muscle relaxant. A case report similar to my situation was published in the journal Mineral and Electrolyte Metabolism(2):
I'd been taking a magnesium supplement, but at 250 mg per day, it might not have been enough. I now take 500 mg per day of magnesium oxide/magnesium gluconate and 1/2 teaspoon of epsom salts per day. To make the epsom salts palatable, I mix about 8 oz water, a big pinch of Splenda, a few squirts of lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon of epsom salts and stir vigorously for a minute. If you want to use epsom salts, try a small dose at first--too much can upset your stomach and have a laxative effect.
Esophagography evidenced a disorder of esophagus motility [ability to move food] with diffuse multiple spasm, reminiscent of the ‘corkscrew esophagus’. A link with the severe hypomagnesemia (Mg 1.1 mEq/l, normal range 1.6–2.1) was suspected, and a therapy with oral pidolate of Mg (1.5 g/twice a day) was started and continued for 4 months. This was associated with a slow progressive normalization of the Mg plasma level and reverted radiographic esophageal findings with disappearance of dysphagia [trouble swallowing].
UPDATE, December 3, 2010: This week, I had something get stuck, and this is what worked for me: I put some epsom salts under my tongue and squeezed the muscles on the back of my neck (it's an acupressure relaxation technique). It took a minute, but the bite went down, and I had no trouble during the rest of the meal. For emergencies, I've taken some empty capsules and filled them with epsom salts and carry them with me in a little pill box.
(1) Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution by Dr. Robert Atkins, 1972, p. 284.
(2) "Hypomagnesemia and Smooth Muscle Contractility: Diffuse Esophageal Spasm in an Old Female Patient" by Silvia Iannello, Maurizio Spina, Paolo Leotta, Marcella Prestipino, Sebastiano Spina, Nunziato Ricciardi, Francesco Belfiore, Mineral and Electrolyte Metabolism, 1998;24:348-356.