Chest Pressure and Swallowing Air While Eating

Aerophagia, or swallowing air, naturally occurs while you eat and perform other daily activities. It can cause indigestion symptoms, including chest pressure, pain and belching. Aerophagia can also cause air to move through your digestive tract leading to bloating, cramping, belching and flatulence. Learning to avoid swallowing air is the best treatment; talk to your doctor if your symptoms persist or worsen.

A young woman grasping her stomach. (Image: JackF/iStock/Getty Images)

Causes

You swallow air -- sometimes unconsciously -- during different daily activities. Anxiety and nervousness often leads to aerophagia and excessive belching. Eating or drinking too quickly or while lying down will also cause you to take air into your esophagus -- the tube between your mouth and stomach -- when you swallow. Talking while you eat, chewing gum or sucking on hard candies can also be responsible for air buildup. Drinking carbonated beverages as well as drinking from a water fountain or through a straw introduces air into your digestive system, potentially leading to chest pain or pressure.

Belching

Belching or burping is your body's natural response to gas buildup in your stomach. According to the October 2010 issue of "Sleep Review," you swallow up to 30 mL of air with food. Swallowed air exerts pressure on the stomach, which distends to accommodate. After reaching a certain pressure, your lower esophageal sphincter -- a ring of muscle that opens and closes at the esophagus-stomach juncture -- reflexively relaxes. Air escapes out of the stomach, up the esophagus and out of your mouth. This process releases the pressure felt in your chest and stomach, often providing relief from swallowed air.

Other Causes of Chest Pressure

Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease -- GERD -- can also create chest pressure and lead to belching. GERD occurs when your stomach contents leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus. Irritation in the esophagus can manifest as burning, pain or pressure behind your breast bone. You might burp, feel nauseous and cough or wheeze. Talk to your doctor if you experience these symptoms or have a history of heartburn.

Prevention

To avoid swallowing air, slow down when you eat and drink. Take smaller bites and sips, and chew your food thoroughly; chewing helps prepare the food for digestion, allowing your body to break it down more easily, without excess gas buildup. Refrain from drinking carbonated beverages or drinking through a straw. Stay away from gum and hard candy and avoid smoking. In addition to filling your lungs with toxic chemicals, you breathe in and swallow air when you inhale smoke. If at all possible, breathe through your nose, as mouth breathing increases the chance of air entering your stomach. The MayoClinic website recommends taking your doctor's advice for treating your heartburn. If you continue to swallow air and feel chest pressure, talk to your doctor about your condition.

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