Aerophagia: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

It is the medical term for excessive and repetitive air swallowing.

We all get some air when we talk, eat or laugh. People with aerophagia swallow so much air that they produce uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms include bloating, swelling, belching and flatulence.

Aerofagia can be chronic (long-term) or acute (short-term), and can be related to physical and psychological factors.

symptom

People with aerophagia, who take a lot of air, experience some uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

  • Belching
  • Reflow .
  • Swelling.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Nausea.
  • Short of breath.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Satiety.

Other symptoms include inhalation of audible air and flatulence.

Is it aerophagia or indigestion?

Although aerophagia shares many of the same symptoms with indigestion, mainly upper abdominal discomfort, they are two distinct disorders. In the study Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, those with indigestion were more likely to report the following symptoms than those with aerophagia:

  • Vomiting
  • Sensation of fullness without eating large quantities.
  • Weightloss.

Causes

Taking the right amount of air seems simple enough, but for a number of reasons, things can go wrong. Aerophagia can be caused by any of the following problems:

Mechanics

How we breathe, eat and drink, this plays a key role in the formation of aerophagia. Some things that lead to excessive air intake include:

  • Eat quickly (for example, take a second bite before the first one is completely chewed and swallowed).
  • Speaking while you chew gum
  • Drinking through a straw (sucking attracts more air).
  • Smoking (again, due to the suction action).
  • Breathing through the mouth.
  • Vigorous exercise.
  • Drinking carbonated drinks.
  • Using loose dentures.

Doctors

People with certain medical conditions who use machines to help them breathe are more likely to have aerophagia.

An example is non-invasive ventilation. This is any type of respiratory support that does not get to insert a tube in the nose or mouth of a person.

A common form of non-invasive ventilation is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that is used to treat people with obstructive sleep apnea .

Sleep apnea is a condition in which the airways become blocked while you sleep. This blockage, which occurs due to loose or malfunctioning muscles located in the back of the throat, restricts airflow and interrupts sleep.

A CPAP machine provides continuous air pressure through a mask or tube. If the pressure is not adjusted correctly, or if the user has some congestion, you can swallow too much air. This results in aerophagia.

Other people who may need assisted breathing and an increased risk of aerophagia include those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and people with certain types of heart failure.

Mental

In a study comparing adults with aerophagia with adults with indigestion, the researchers found that 19 percent of those with aerophagia had anxiety compared to only 6 percent of those with indigestion.

The connection between anxiety and aerophagia was observed in another study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

When subjects with excessive belching did not know they were being studied, their belching was significantly less than when they knew they were being watched. Experts theorize that aerophagia can be a learned behavior used by those with anxiety to deal with stress.

Diagnosis

Because aerophagia shares some of the same symptoms with common digestive disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, food allergies, and intestinal blockages, your doctor can first evaluate these conditions.

If a physical cause of your bowel problems is not found, and your symptoms are persistent, your doctor can make the diagnosis of aerophagia.

Treatment

While some doctors may prescribe medications such as simethicone and dimethiconeto reduce the formation of gas in the intestine, there is not much in the way of drug therapy to treat aerophagia.

Most experts advise speech therapy to improve breathing while speaking. They also recommend behavior modification therapy to:

  • Become aware of the inhalation of air.
  • Practice slow breathing.
  • Learn effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety.