Belch. Biccup. Mouth fart. Whatever you call it, we all burp occasionally.
"It's a completely natural process that's your body's way of getting rid of excess air from your upper digestive tract," Adam Goodman, MD, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at NYU Langone Hospital–Brooklyn, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
After you eat, your stomach stretches to accommodate the food you've just swallowed.
"Part of the natural venting mechanism of the gut is to allow the lower esophageal sphincter — the valve between your esophagus and stomach — to relax," adds Amir Masoud, MD, MBBS, a Yale Medicine gastroenterologist. These relaxations, otherwise known as TLESRs, are normal in the post-meal period. But with the opening of the valve, some gas escapes, leading to burping.
So how much burping is normal? Believe it or not, quite a lot. The average person burps anywhere from one to four times with each meal, says Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
"This can vary greatly from person to person depending on how fast and how much air one swallows knowingly or unknowingly while eating, drinking, speaking or even mouth-breathing," Dr. Lee says.
If you burp a bunch and it doesn't bother you, then it's really nothing to worry about, Dr. Goodman says. But if it does, here's a look at some of the most common causes and what you can do to treat them.
1. You're Swallowing a Lot of Air
"This is the most common reason among my patients," says Dr. Masoud.
Aerophagia, or air swallowing, can happen when you chew gum, drink with a straw or even talk when you eat — all things you may not even notice. This can be easily solved with some simple lifestyle measures:
- Slow down when you eat, so you swallow less air with your food
- Avoid carbonated drinks and beer, which release carbon dioxide gas
- Skip gum and hard candy, which cause you to swallow more often than normal (so you swallow more air, to boot)
- If you smoke, quit — when you inhale smoke, you also inhale (and swallow) air
2. You're Mouth-Breathing
If you're chronically stuffed up due to allergies or a deviated septum, this can force you to breathe through your mouth, which in turn increases the chances that you'll swallow air, Dr. Lee says.
In addition, it can cause post-nasal drip — when mucus collects in the back of your throat — which leads you to swallow a lot more to get rid of it.
You can try an over-the-counter steroid nasal spray for a couple weeks to see if it unclogs your schnoz (and relieves your belching), but if it doesn't, see an ENT to get to the underlying source of your stuffiness.
3. You Have a Lactose or Fructose Intolerance
Almost two-thirds of all adults have trouble digesting lactose, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This means they can't fully digest foods that contain dairy. Instead, the lactose sticks around in your belly, producing gas that makes you burp, says Dr. Lee.
Your belching may stem from lactose intolerance if it occurs within a couple hours of consuming dairy products and is paired with other symptoms, such as tummy pain, bloating and farting.
The good news is you don't have to cut dairy out of your diet entirely: Most folks can still eat dairy products such as cheese or yogurt without discomfort, since they're made using fermentation processes that break down much of the lactose in milk.
If you notice burping after you drink fruit juice, it may be due to fructose intolerance, Dr. Goodman says. Simply cutting back on this type of beverage as well as any products that contain high-fructose corn syrup can help.
4. You're Stressed
When you're nervous or anxious, you may hyperventilate, which in turn can lead to a repetitive direct swallowing of air, says Dr. Masoud. Folks with anxiety disorders are also prone to a certain type of belching, known as "supragastric belching."
"It occurs when the person initiates the belch by sucking air into the chest then rapidly 'pushing' it out leading to the 'burp,'" Dr. Masoud explains.
If your doctor suspects this, he or she will run a test known as esophageal manometry, which measures the pressure along the inside of your esophagus. This condition is tough to treat, because it's a learned behavior. You may need speech or behavioral therapy, per UCLA Health.
5. You've Got Acid Reflux
If you have acid reflux, your stomach acid starts to back up into your esophagus. This causes you to swallow more air, so you feel bloated and burp a lot.
"Most people have some degree of reflux, but it's when this reflux causes pain or discomfort or secondary complications, such as difficulty swallowing or a cough, that we consider it abnormal," Dr. Masoud says.
Chronic burping can also be related to inflammation of the stomach lining caused by Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium responsible for some stomach ulcers. (In these cases, other tip-off symptoms are heartburn and abdominal pain.)
An over-the-counter antacid can relieve mild symptoms by neutralizing stomach acid, as do OTC medications to reduce acid production, such as H-2 receptor blockers or proton-pump inhibitors. Any symptoms that last for more than a few weeks, though, should be checked out by your physician.
When to See a Doctor
Burping usually resolves on its own or with simple lifestyle changes. If you don't have any other symptoms, it's rarely a sign of any more serious conditions, says Dr. Lee.
But if it bothers you, it's worth it to get it checked out. "In most cases, this is a benign and completely reversible condition that will improve with the right interventions," reassures Dr. Masoud. You should also always see your doctor if your burping's accompanied by:
- Persistent or severe abdominal pain
- Bloody poop
- Unintended weight loss
- Chest discomfort
- Loss of appetite or feeling full quickly
These signs and symptoms could signal an underlying digestive condition such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease.