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What Is Aerophagia?

Air Swallowing May Occur with CPAP Use

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Updated April 22, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Aerophagia may sound like something bizarre, but for those who use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel to treat their sleep apnea, it may be all too familiar.

Definition of Aerophagia

Aerophagia can be defined from its word roots as "eating air." This may sound rather strange, but swallowing air is a common occurrence. It is frequently associated with any sort of eating, especially when we eat too fast. Aerophagia often results from drinking carbonated beverages such as soda pop. It may also occur when chewing gum or even while smoking. There are rare conditions that may be associated with aerophagia, such as a behavior in those with a cognitive deficit from birth. It may interestingly occur in the setting of CPAP or bilevel use if the treatment pressure is excessive.

CPAP is the delivery of pressurized air through a face mask to support the upper airway and treat sleep apnea. The air enters the lungs through the trachea. If the air pressure is set too high, however, the air may travel into the stomach via the neighboring esophagus. Like a bellows, the machine may fill your stomach with air and this can lead to symptoms of aerophagia.

Symptoms of Aerophagia

The air that is swallowed with aerophagia enters the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. This may cause bloating and abdominal discomfort or pain. If the air returns up the esophagus, it may cause belching or burping. It may also be passed as excessive gas or flatulence.

How to Eliminate Aerophagia in CPAP Use

If aerophagia occurs in the setting of CPAP use, this can be corrected by making some changes to your CPAP pressure setting. In most cases, the pressure is too high and it must be reduced. It may also be necessary to change you to a different type of treatment, such as bilevel. If you have concerns about experiencing aerophagia, start by speaking with your sleep doctor.

Source:

Loening-Baucke, V. "Aerophagia as cause of gaseous abdominal distention in a toddler." J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2000;31(2):204–7.

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