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What Is Aerophagia?

Belching can be caused by aerophagia.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2014
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Aerophagia is a condition in which people swallow air. The swallowed air can create a bloated or distended feeling in the stomach, and results in gas or belching as the body attempts to express it. There are a number of causes for aerophagia, and this condition can often be treated or managed with some lifestyle adjustments. It can help to see a respiratory therapist or another breathing specialist to learn more about how to prevent aerophagia.

One common reason for patients to experience this problem is noninvasive ventilation such as using a CPAP machine. If the settings aren't right, the system can force the patient to swallow air. Since these systems are often used while sleeping, the patient may not be aware of the issue. If someone on a CPAP machine wakes up feeling uncomfortable, bloated, or gassy, aerophagia may be the reason why. A doctor can adjust the recommended settings to reduce the incidence of air swallowing.

Another cause for aerophagia can be poor eating habits. People who gulp their food or eat in a hurry can swallow air along with their food. Likewise, people under stress and anxiety may swallow air. The physical discomfort associated with aerophagia can sometimes add to the stress, as can the belching which often accompanies this condition. Doing breathing exercises, eating more slowly, and managing stress and anxiety can sometimes resolve the aerophagia.

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Another condition which can lead to aerophagia is a spinal cord injury, a head injury, or a developmental disability. In these cases, people may have impaired swallowing and breathing reflexes which could result in swallowing air. Sometimes physical therapy can resolve the issue and help the patient be more comfortable. Regular therapy for recovery from traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries may include opportunities to work on breathing and swallowing so that people can eat and communicate with others more comfortably, and this may address the problem.

If someone is experiencing this problem, it is certainly worth a visit to the doctor to talk about the situation. The doctor can confirm that aerophagia is really what is occurring, explore possible causes, and make management and treatment recommendations. There may be some simple steps which can be taken to address the problem and this could greatly increase someone's quality of life. Low-level aerophagia can be intrusive enough to be irritating without being obvious to diagnose, and once it is identified and addressed, a patient may notice that she or he feels much more comfortable.

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