Aerophagia — Why Swallowed Air Causes Digestion Problems

Mouth breathingThe 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.

Breathing through your nose is surprisingly important. 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.

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.

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] 
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