Burping is usually a normal bodily process that enables air to be brought up and released from the stomach. This produces a distinctive sound. Although burping is perfectly natural, it can cause embarrassment and discomfort.
Every time a person swallows fluid or food, air is also swallowed. Excess air may be swallowed when an individual eats or drinks too quickly, talks while they are eating, smokes, sucks on hard sweets, chews gum, or drinks fizzy drinks, for example. The unconscious swallowing of air is referred to as aerophagia.
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The condition gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also have this effect. Stomach acid moving up into the esophagus may cause a person to keep swallowing in order to clear it, leading to more air being swallowed and therefore belching. In some cases, people swallow air simply as a nervous habit. Other conditions that can lead to burping include gastritis, where the stomach lining becomes inflamed or Helicobacter pylori infection, which causes stomach ulcers. Indigestion and heartburn may also be relieved by burping.
Air accumulating in the stomach causes it to stretch, which causes the muscle at the bottom end of the food pipe (esophagus) to relax. Air can then move from the stomach and pass along the esophagus and out of the mouth.
When to Seek Help
Burping is almost always a minor problem, but if it persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, medical attention should be sought. To try and determine the cause of the burping, a doctor will ask how often the problem occurs, whether there is a pattern to the belching, such as it happening after eating or drinking or when feeling nervous, and whether or not any other symptoms are present. In some cases, further tests may be required depending on what is established during the initial assessment.
Techniques and recommendations for relieving burping include the following:
- Lying on one side or with the knees drawn towards the chest until gas is passed
- Avoiding eating foods and beverages known to produce gas
- Avoiding eating quickly. Individuals should take their time to eat, which reduces the amount of air swallowed
- Avoiding drinking fizzy drinks. Carbonated drinks release carbon dioxide
- Avoiding chewing gum, since this enables people to swallow more often than they usually would and part of what is swallowed is air
- Refraining from smoking. As smoke is inhaled during smoking, air is also inhaled and swallowed
- Avoiding sucking hard sweets. This also causes a person to swallow more often
- Checking dentures. Dentures that do not fit properly can lead to a person swallowing more air when they consume food or drink
- Treating heartburn. Over-the-counter medications are available for occasional and mild heartburn. If a person has GERD, medication or other treatments may be prescribed.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc