Belching is the release of gas from the digestive tract through the mouth. It is the result of swallowing air, usually while eat or drinking. While it is normal to swallow small amounts of air, big, noisy belches occur when too much air is swallowed, often unintentionally. The clinical term for belching is eructation; the common term is burping.
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Belching is most often caused by eating or drinking too quickly, talking while you eat, drinking beer, sodas or other carbonated beverages that are infused with air, chewing gum and smoking. Inhaling cigarette smoke and chewing gum can both cause you to swallow excess air and result in belching.
Acid reflux, or heartburn, can cause belching as a result of swallowing excess air to try to clear out your throat and esophagus. Anxiety can also cause excessive swallowing.
Belching releases air and gas that would otherwise settle in the gastrointestinal tract and cause bloating, discomfort in the chest and abdomen, and sometimes difficulty breathing. Some people intentionally belch to release trapped air or gas. For some people, belching becomes a habit.
Some people belch loudly and often, a condition known as aerophagia wherein air is swallowed into the esophagus and immediately expelled. In this case, belching may be diagnosed as a behavioral disorder.
Loud burping is often embarrassing and even when unintentional, is considered rude in many cultures.
Eat slowly and eat smaller amounts of food and slowly and calmly sip beverages so you swallow less air. Drink carbonated beverages directly from a glass, not through a straw or from a can or bottle. If belching is a chronic problem, you may have to avoid carbonated beverage altogether.
During flare-ups, it may help to avoid high-fiber foods and any other foods that are hard to digest. If smoking is causing belching, then you have one more reason to quit.
When heartburn causes you to belch, you must resolve the underlying condition with antacids or other treatments.
Since the initial swallowing of air is often an unconscious behavior, there is not much a physician can do other than review preventive measures, explain the mechanisms of belching and in some cases, teach breathing techniques that can help minimize air swallowing. In cases of excessive belching, behavioral or speech therapy may be recommended.
There are no medications to treat belching but if heartburn is the cause, antacids may help. If the problem is severe and bothersome, anxiety medication may also help some people.
In a small note published in the British Medical Journal, Dr. S. Ming reported his solution to repeated belching that results from nervous anxiety. He instructed his patients to bite on a pencil or handkerchief to stop the flow of air. According to Dr. Ming, this method resulted in a quick resolution of the problem.