Humans swallow air all the time, like when we’re eating or talking. However, some people can take in an excessive amount of air due to anxiety. The medical name for this is Aerophagia.
Aerophagia can have lots of different symptoms, including a bloated or swollen stomach, pain or shooting pains radiating from the stomach, chest, or abdomen, frequent belching, a feeling of air pressure in your throat, excessive flatulence, heartburn and air gurgling in your oesophagus. Over time, it can cause stomach and digestive problems and symptoms such as IBS.
Why Can Anxiety Cause me to swallow more air?
When our brain perceives a threat, it releases the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline and activates your stress response in the form of fight, flight or freeze. This can create certain physical changes in the body which lead you to swallow more air. For example, the stress response can cause a reduction or increase in your saliva, both of which lead you to swallow more frequently. It can also cause an increase in mouth-breathing, leading you to swallow more air into your stomach.
Chronic stress, also known as hyperstimulation, can also cause Aerophagia as chronic stress means that your stress response is on high alert for a prolonged period of time. It is also common for anxious people to develop an unconscious habit of air swallowing, particularly when they’re extremely anxious.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
If aerophagia is caused by anxiety, the main thing you can do to combat it is to learn some anxiety-reducing breathing techniques, such as controlled diaphragmatic breathing or box breathing. If Aerophagia symptoms are linked to chronic stress, you can reduce hyperstimulation by doing regular deep relaxation techniques, such as meditation.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety and chronic stress occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety and chronic stress. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.
There are other possible causes of Aerophagia too, such as medication, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar, nutritional deficiencies and hormones. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor to find out the cause so that you can effectively treat it.