December 15, 2019
Aerophagia, from the Greek word aerophagein, is repetitive and excessive air swallowing—literally “eating air.” The intake of air passes through the esophagus and into the digestive system often resulting in uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms including frequent belching, abdominal pain and distension, reflux, and flatulence. About 7% of children and nearly 25% of adults suffer from this condition. Read on to find out more about aerophagia, the causes, and some treatment options.
Is it Aerophagia or Indigestion?
Generally, people swallow about 2 quarts of air while eating and drinking, and most people process and expel the smaller amounts of gas with only mild discomfort. Belching relieves about half of the air, while the rest travels through the stomach and intestines until released in the form of flatulence. But people with aerophagia take in significantly larger amounts of air. The symptoms are more severe and they can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term).
Unfortunately, the symptoms of aerophagia are so similar to other gastrointestinal illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome or acid reflux, it can take a doctor some time to sort out what is really going on. Patients with indigestion are more prone to experience nausea, vomiting, feeling full without eating too much, and weight loss, while patients with aerophagia are not likely to report these types of additional symptoms.
Most Common Causes of Aerophagia
The formation of aerophagia typically stems from the mechanics of how people breathe and swallow. Mouth breathing and shallow, rapid breathing often results in swallowing more air. This is why aerophagia can also be a side effect of hyperventilation from anxiety. It is also a common side effect of heavy breathing after strenuous exercise. Slowing down and becoming aware of breathing is an important first step. Individuals with chronic aerophagia should practice slow, measured breaths in and out through the nose. It has a calming effect and people are less likely to swallow pockets of air, significantly reducing the risk of aerophagia.
Eating and drinking habits are other mechanical behaviors that often contribute to aerophagia. The condition is often the result of eating too quickly, talking while eating, chewing gum, consuming carbonated beverages, and drinking through a straw. Once individuals are aware of the condition, they can make a conscious effort to stop it. They should practice eating smaller bites and thoroughly chewing with mouths closed before swallowing food. They can also quit chewing gum, drinking carbonation, and using straws.
In some cases, the underlying medical condition of sleep apnea and the use of a CPAP machine can make people more prone to aerophagia. If individuals with CPAP-related aerophagia need to make sure there is enough pressure to alleviate the problem, but not too much to continually pump air into the esophagus instead of the airway. A doctor can help make the proper adjustments.
Ill-fitting dentures or other dental restorations can also be a factor. They cause an excess of saliva and air swallowing. For individuals with ill-fitting dentures and aerophagia, they can speak with their dentist about getting a set that fits more naturally.
If an individual has a serious case of aerophagia, it is advisable to seek medical attention from a specialist. They will help pin down the underlying causes and find the proper treatment for the symptoms.