Aerophagia – Why Swallowed Air Causes Digestion Problems


Mouth breathing problemsThe simple definition of aerophagia is when you swallow too much air into your gastrointestinal tract.

Most people swallow a little air when speaking, eating or drinking. But in cases of aerophagia, the amount of swallowed air is so large it can cause abdominal bloating, intestinal pain and excessive burping and belching.

The majority of swallowed air is usually burped back out, but with excessive mouth breathing the air may regularly pass from the stomach into the small intestine. When you’re lying down this amount is likely to increase.

Once this air is in your gastrointestinal tract any that is not absorbed into the small intestine (primarily oxygen), has to go somewhere. That passage out often leads to abdominal bloating and painful intestinal cramps.

Basic Causes of Swallowed Air

Eating or drinking too quickly can cause people to swallow air excessively, especially when eating with their mouth open, or talking while eating.

Drinking carbonated drinks like soda or beer is another way we get gas into our stomachs. As is drinking with a straw, gulping liquids down or drinking from water fountains.

Most of this swallowed air will usually get burped out. But if you have a problem with abdominal bloating and stomach cramps you may want to minimize these kind of drinks and drinking in this way for a while and see if the symptoms lessen.

Chewing gum, sucking on sweets and dragging on cigarettes can all lead to more swallowed air. All of these are also good things to give up for better health anyway.

How to Stop Mouth Breathing

Nasal congestion or other problems leading to mouth breathing, especially when you’re sleeping, may be a cause of aerophagia. Mouth breathing not only significantly increases the chance of air going into your stomach, it is also a far less healthy way to breathe.

When you breathe through your nose, the air is warmed and filtered of possible contaminants. Nose breathing also helps generate nitric oxide, which has many important functions in our bodies, including destroying pathogens in our respiratory system, regulating blood flow, releasing hormones and playing a part in many neurological functions. Breathing through your nose is surprisingly important.

Mouth breathing, on the other hand, lessens oxygen absorption and can contribute to poor sleep and sleeping disorders, general fatigue, loud snoring and sleep apnea (associated with heart attacks), and a whole host of health problems. This is even more important for children, whose whole facial development can be affected by excessive mouth breathing, particularly during sleeping.

For occasional problems with mouth breathing, like congestion with allergies or colds, special breathing strips have been shown to be effective at clearing the nose and allowing you to breathe normally, especially during sleep.

For ongoing problems and aerophagia, a knowledgeable healthcare professional should be consulted on how to stop mouth breathing. More doctors are becoming aware of the problem, but it’s worth finding a specialist who understands the serious impact of continuous mouth breathing and is prepared to treat it.

This site on normal breathing also goes into great detail on why mouth breathing is such a serious health issue and has long term practices to fix it.

Aerophagia and Anxiety

When we are anxious, nervous or tense we may swallow air without realizing it. Too much caffeine from coffee can definitely contribute to this but stress at work or in personal relationships is also often a factor.

Talking too fast is another stress related behaviour that can lead to mouth breathing and swallowing too much air. This kind of aerophagia is usually more of a subconscious problem and slowing down, breathing through the nose and becoming aware of the behavior and our breathing in general is the start of letting go of it.

In the next post there are some specific solutions I’ve found to help stop swallowing air.

Photo 1 credit with thanks: [Olivia] 

15 Responses to “Aerophagia – Why Swallowed Air Causes Digestion Problems”

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  1. Bonnie says:

    I have cpap and the forced air causes serious abdominal pain, bloating. It takes 8 hours to relieve the pain through belching the air out during which time I cannot find a comfortable way to sit, stand or lie down.
    Please add this to side effect to your writings. Thank you.
    Bonnie

    • bhairavi Vaswani says:

      Hi
      Pls check for gall bladder stones
      If The pain you describing is rotational and unbearable then certainly get it checked

      • Iven says:

        I use a CPAP and have the same problems as Bonnie. It’s from having air forced down your throat all night, not all of it goes into your lungs. I’ve tried everything but unfortunately some people just have this problem using CPAPs. It’s gotten so bad I’m looking into jaw surgery to open my airways so I don’t have to use a CPAP anymore.

    • helen says:

      I also have cpap and problems with the extra air causing bloating and abdominal pain which is why I’m searching on here to find if anyone else has similar. Thanks for your post Bonnie, always nice to see your not the only one and it’s something common to our apnoea issue.

  2. terri paul says:

    I have serious abdominal problems, 10 surgeries , it wasn’t until the 8th the Dr.s started to mention to much air in my intestines ,of course being under all the medications they had me on ,they neither explained nor could I even think at the time to ask , how in the world does someone swallow air. Well it’s been 1 1/2 years since my last surgery, and it just hit me what they said,my opinion some dr.s really stink at giving advice(like they are entitled to do) I think the ones that don’t give the information they should give ,might start taking a little advice from Patch Adams.

  3. Bob P. says:

    I am a “mouth breather” and I do get bloating often. Sometimes my stomach gets hard.

    I am not a gaseous person and do not have any pain. No ISB.

    The bloating does cause breathing problems.

    With the exception of bloating, everything else seems fine.

    My nostrils are clear, but breathing is mainly via mouth.

    I do avoid the “No-No” foods and beverages.

    I have been to a Doctor. They never mentioned mouth breathing.

    Anybody out there with the same problem as mine???

    • Smarie says:

      I am mouth breather also. I hate that I look normal one minute and 6 months pregnant the next.I have seen 2 doctors and the both mentioned I have aerophagia. Neither mentioned mouth breathing. I was only told i was taking in too much air.

    • Laura says:

      I am a mouth breather too partly do to my Sinusitis problem. Yea my stomach feels bloated and hard .. just lately I got bronchitis and had trouble breathing..I noticed I became very bloated from the rapid struggle to breathe thru my mouth and my stomach was hard. I too noticed discomfort when trying to breath when I am bloated.

  4. Nicole says:

    Thanks for the very informative article. I’ll definitely use these tips. (:
    I was wondering if you could give me some advice. I swallow too much air because I have a chronic dry throat. It’ll help my throat to chew gum and hard candy, but it’s at the cost of chronic belching.
    Do you have any recommendations for me to replace these behaviors with, so that I can stop swallowing because of my throat?
    Thank you!

    • James says:

      Hi Nicole,

      A dry throat is usually a sign of mild dehydration so I’d carry a water bottle with you and drink more regularly. It’s a little unusual but just smelling peppermint essential oil usually stimulates saliva so this may help. Chewing fennel seeds, while not as sweet as candy, also stimulate saliva and help prevent bloating and other intestinal issues http://flatulencecures.com/using-fennel-seeds-gas-cramps-bloating

      Hope this helps,

      James

  5. Kelly Ryan says:

    I am a mouth breather and suffer from gas that comes out the bottom end :-(

  6. vijay katyal says:

    It is an informative article.It should be studied by all.

  7. kim says:

    I have noticed this air swallowing happens when I sleep with a fan blowing on me in the summer. I can feel my stomach filling up and the pain is terrible.

  8. Shirley L. says:

    I have been using a cpap for a couple of year now and I have been miserable . I have so much bloating and my stomach and colon are so crampy. It just seems to be getting worse. I am going to stop using the cpap. I just almost can not function with this air issue. I am going to get an oral mouthpiece and that will help I hope. The cramps are so painful and often cause diarreha . the cpap mask leaks all night and it really makes no difference how it is fitted or the style. This site has helped me to understand what is happening to me. I was so worried, wondering what was wrong with me. Now it all makes sense.

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