Ingesting some air when talking or eating is common. However, sometimes people can ingest too much air. Doctors call this aerophagia, which can lead to bloating, excessive belching, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
People can develop aerophagia due to both physical and psychological factors. Aerophagia can be chronic or occur only for a period of time (acute aerophagia). If left untreated, aerophagia can cause abdominal discomfort, and in some cases, it may lead to severe complications.
Treatment may involve dietary modifications or lifestyle changes, such as avoiding carbonated beverages. In some severe situations, a person may require anti-gas medications to help manage symptoms.
This article reviews aerophagia, its symptoms, causes, treatment, and when a person should contact a doctor.
Aerophagia is the medical term doctors use to describe swallowing too much air. Swallowing some air is common, occurring in everyone while they eat or drink. Gas entering the stomach and digestive system is the leading cause of aerophagia.
What are the symptoms of aerophagia?
The symptoms of aerophagia
These symptoms may develop when people ingest a substantial quantity of air and gas builds up in the gastrointestinal system.
However, aerophagia symptoms are similar to many other health conditions involving the gastrointestinal system. Therefore, if a person has recurrent symptoms of aerophagia, they may consider contacting a doctor who can perform relevant exams to find out what may be causing symptoms.
Aerophagia may occur for a variety of reasons. These may include:
People with certain medical conditions that need to use medical devices, such as ventilators, to help them breathe
Undergoing continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is a common cause of air ingestion and aerophagia.
How people drink, eat, and breathe plays a vital role in aerophagia development. Certain habits may lead to excessive air swallowing, and these can include:
- eating too quickly
- chewing gum
- talking and eating at the same time
- drinking using a straw
- drinking carbonated beverages
- breathing through the mouth
Anxiety and depression
More research is needed to confirm the relationship between anxiety and the onset of aerophagia.
Doctors can treat aerophagia and recommend various treatment types depending on its causes. Aerophagia treatment options may include:
Changes in CPAP treatment
Aerophagia is a common side effect in people using CPAP machines as a regular treatment.
Doctors may recommend changing the pressure levels of the positive airway pressure (PAP) device pumping the air. This may reduce the quantity of air a person ingests. If that measure is ineffective, doctors may suggest trying different types of CPAP masks. For example, they may suggest using a nasal mask rather than a full-face mask that covers both the nose and mouth.
Doctors may also suggest people try using a different PAP device to see if a different machine helps. One option may be switching from a CPAP device to an auto-adjusting positive airway pressure (APAP) device. APAP devices typically tend to cause less air ingestion than CPAP appliances.
Sleeping on the side rather than on the back while using a CPAP or an APAP device may also reduce the amount of air swallowed while resting and improve aerophagia.
Doctors may recommend taking anti-gas medications. Most of these drugs are available as over-the-counter (OTC) medications, meaning they do not require a prescription. However, it can be helpful that people consider contacting their doctors first to check if these medications can relieve their symptoms and if they are suitable.
Some lifestyle changes can contribute to preventing the buildup of gas and improving aerophagia. Examples include:
- avoiding chewing gum
- quitting smoking if applicable
- avoiding drinking carbonated beverages
- limiting FODMAP foods, which can cause bloating and gas
Managing stress and anxiety may also be important in reducing belching and other gastrointestinal symptoms for some people.
Other than functional and quality of life disturbance, aerophagia in and of itself is typically not dangerous. However, it can be associated with neurocognitive, mood disorders, and behavioral abnormalities — for example, anxiety.
A doctor can help someone treat aerophagia symptoms. Also, experts note that it is important to distinguish aerophagia from supra gastric belching, another more common condition in the general population.
Contacting a doctor is vital if someone suspects they have aerophagia or experience symptoms. People should get medical attention if they experience severe aerophagia symptoms, including:
Aerophagia is a medical condition that occurs when someone ingests too much air.
Swallowing air can happen during eating, drinking, or when using certain assistive breathing medical devices. Ultimately, aerophagia can lead to gas buildup in the gastrointestinal system, resulting in symptoms such as belching, farting, and upset stomach.
Lifestyle changes and anti-gas medications can help improve aerophagia and prevent gas formation. If a CPAP device is causing aerophagia, a healthcare professional may adjust its pressure or recommend trying a different type of mask to help reduce the aerophagia risk.
In some cases, aerophagia can cause serious complications, including perforations in the gastrointestinal system. This is a life threatening condition.
If a person with aerophagia develops severe chest pain, significant bloating, or notices blood in their stool, they should get immediate medical attention.