Aerophagia: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment of Excessive Swallowing of Air

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Aerophagia
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Aerophagia is the excessive swallowing of air, and although it isn’t a serious condition, it can cause bloating and discomfort. For the most part, it occurs when you swallow a little bit of extra air while eating or drinking. But, those people that use continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machines may also have to deal with it.

We are going to take a closer look at this condition and discuss its causes, symptoms, and treatment, as well as if it can also be a sign of other medical issues.

Aerophagia Definition

Aerophagia is excessive swallowing of air that bypasses the lungs and gets trapped in the gastrointestinal tract. This air can get stuck in the esophagus and stomach.

When this happens, the air can become jammed, which can cause discomfort and even a little bit of pain as the air is trying to find an exit. It’s the trapped air that results in many of the symptoms of this condition.

Causes of Aerophagia

The basic cause of aerophagia is excessive swallowed air that becomes trapped in the gastrointestinal tract. But many factors can cause excessive air swallowing, and they are usually the result of common everyday occurrences.

For example, aerophagia can be caused by a gulp of air while eating food, sucking on a hard candy, or chewing gum. Eating while lying down can also cause air to become trapped, as can talking while you eat.

Smoking can also cause aerophagia due to the consistent sucking in of air required for smoking.

Other causes can include:

  • Mouth breathing due to nasal congestion
  • Eating or drinking too fast
  • Drinking carbonated liquids like soda pop (carbonation can add excess air into your system)
  • Talking too fast or for long periods that cause you to run out of air
  • Strenuous physical activities that result in heavy breathing or being out of breath (you end up gulping down the air as opposed to just breathing it in)
  • Hysteria or anxiety leading to hyperventilation
  • Incorrectly fitting dentures
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Aerophagia as a Result of CPAP Therapy

CPAP machines are used to treat breathing problems like sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is affected during sleep. These machines counter the affected breathing by creating an uninterrupted, positive airflow.

One of the side effects of CPAP therapy is that it can occasionally force air into your esophagus and stomach, causing aerophagia. But, there are other reasons a CPAP machine causes aerophagia.

1. CPAP Pressure Set Too High

It could be that the air pressure on the machine is set too high for your requirements. As a result, there is excess air, but it has nowhere to go. You can fix this by having your CPAP re-calibrated.

2. CPAP Pressure Set Too Low

You can also suffer from aerophagia if the CPAP pressure is set too low. It means that your body isn’t getting quite enough air into the lungs, and may try to gulp it down instead. You can solve the issue simply by re-calibrating your CPAP machine.

3. Congestion

Congestion from a cold or allergies can result in you not getting enough air from your CPAP. So, your body tries to overcompensate, leading to CPAP bloating.

4. Wrong Mask

If you are a mouth breather and your CPAP machine runs air through a nasal mask, you may not be getting the air that you need. So, it results in you gulping for more air.

5. CPAP Beginner

If you are new to using a CPAP machine and your body hasn’t gotten used to it yet, it may cause your body to breathe in out of rhythm when using it. Hopefully, your body will soon fall into sync with the machine.

Aerophagia Symptoms

Aerophagia symptoms, while uncomfortable, are not usually a health issue. Symptoms can include:

Is Aerophagia a Symptom of Any Medical Conditions?

While the symptoms of aerophagia tend to be fairly non-threatening, there is a chance that the condition may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. For example:

  • Aerophagia is diagnosed in 8.8 percent of cognitively delayed patients
  • Excessive air swallowing is a common side effect of noninvasive ventilation (NIV), a treatment often used for some respiratory problems and in cardiovascular care
  • The condition can also be a sign of allergies or lactose intolerance

Aerophagia Treatment

Aerophagia treatment is fairly simple. It involves changing behaviors rather than taking actual drugs or medications. These are some simple and effective treatments for aerophagia.

1. Eat Slowly

Eating slowly and paying more attention may prevent the excessive swallowing of air while eating. Chewing thoroughly and slowly can help reduce the amount of air you may accidentally bring in, as well as any that may get trapped in your food.

2. Avoid Carbonated Beverages

Bubbly drinks from soda to beer can add excess gas to the gastrointestinal tract. Avoiding them or decreasing the amount you drink can help prevent or avoid aerophagia.

3. Practice Proper Breathing

Many people do not realize that they are mouth breathers. Breathing through the mouth can inadvertently add more air into the gastrointestinal tract as opposed to the lungs.

Practice proper breathing techniques by slowly breathing through your nose, or breathing in through your nose and then out your mouth.

4. Quit Smoking

If you are a smoker, quit. Smoking isn’t good for you at the best of times anyway.

But if you are having issues with aerophagia, it could be because of smoking. So, quitting may help you from swallowing too much air.

5. Avoid Gum and Hard Candy

Avoiding chewing gum and hard candies is also recommended. The act of chewing or sucking on these treats creates more of an opportunity to suck in excessive air.

6. Deal with the Underlying Cause

Dealing with the underlying cause of aerophagia can help. If you suspect that it’s something to do with your CPAP machine, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

But, if it has to do with allergies, speak to a doctor about the options for their treatment. Speaking to a professional may also be the way to go if it’s anxiety causing the condition.

Treating the underlying cause can not only help with your aerophagia symptoms, but it will also be good for your health.

Aerophagia Is Annoying, But Can Be Dealt With

Aerophagia is annoying. It can cause excessive belching and discomfort in your belly, and it can make you feel uncomfortable in general. But for the most part, it can be easily dealt with by following the tips mentioned in the article.

Related Articles:

How to Manage Excessive Burps and Belches

How to Get Rid of Trapped Gas


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“Symptoms & Causes of Gas in the Digestive Tract,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases, July 2016; https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gas-digestive-tract/symptoms-causes, last accessed August 21, 2017.
Nasca, T.R., “Aerophagia Causes and Resolutions,” SleepApnea; https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/cpap-therapy/troubleshooting-guide-for-cpap-problems/aerophagia-causes-and-resolutions/, last accessed August 21, 2017.
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Callahan, C., “Chest Pressure and Swallowing Air While Eating,” Livestrong, August 14, 2017; http://www.livestrong.com/article/483635-chest-pressure-and-swallowing-air-while-eating, last accessed August 14, 2017.
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