What Your Symptom Is Telling You
After polishing off a particularly palatable plate of bratwurst, you uncork a belch that seems to bounce off the Bavarian Alps. Your host's reaction: an invitation to next year's polka party. Your stomach's: Thanks for letting me blow off a little steam—or at least a little trapped air.
While you're chewing and sipping, air routinely makes its way into your mouth, stealing a ride down your esophagus when you swallow. From there, one of two things happens: The air is either pushed into your stomach or sits at the bottom of your esophagus waiting for the next elevator up. Then, like a bubble at the bottom of a water cooler, the air suddenly drifts back up your throat and out of your mouth—sometimes on cue.
"You could fill someone's stomach with air and there's no guarantee that he'll burp," says James Cooper, M.D., professor of medicine at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., and a spokesman for the American Association of Gastroenterologists. "But if he has air trapped in his esophagus, he's a prime candidate."
"Swallowing air is probably one of the most common causes of burping," says Wendell Clarkston, M.D., an assistant professor and director of the Fellowship Training Program in Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
Food allergies and sensitivity to milk can also contribute to burping, as can a deficiency of stomach acid.
While burping isn't considered a health problem, it can be a little hard on your pride—particularly when you're in public. Here's how to keep your decorum.
Eat less air. Although there's no evidence that chewing with your mouth closed will help stop burping, chewing more slowly and carefully should, says Dr. Clarkston. It also enhances digestion, helping cut down on gas and stomach upset.
Nix nervousness. Some people fidget with their fingers or tap their toes when they're nervous. Others gulp literally gallons of air as they try to soothe a dry mouth and throat, says Dr. Cooper. Try finding other outlets for your nervous energy. Stand up and stretch or go for a walk around the block.
Forgo the fizz. Carbonated beverages taste great on the way down. What's less satisfying is the way the pressurized air sometimes forces its way back out, says Alan R. Gaby, M.D., a Baltimore physician and president of the American Holistic Medical Association. If you'd like to squelch that belch until after the dinner party—you might be wise to select a noncarbonated beverage instead.
Get rid of gum. Chewing gum helps create saliva that's later swallowed along with air, says Dr. Clarkston.
Sip from a glass. Drinking from straws and water fountains allows still more air to mix in with water, says Dr. Cooper. Drink directly from a glass or cup instead.
Go light on airy foods. Whipped foods like milk shakes and soufflés tend to have air in them, increasing your chance of burping, says Dr. Cooper.
Do the elimination diet. If none of the previous tips seem to help curb excess burping, a food allergy or sensitivity to milk may be to blame. Carefully eliminating some foods from your diet may give you some insight into the problem. Some of the most common culprits are milk, eggs, wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, citrus fruits, colas and chocolate.
"Many people have food allergies, and when they get off the food, their symptoms miraculously go away," says Dr. Gaby. If you stop drinking milk for several days, for example, and your belching stops, you may have found the problem. Just to be sure, have some more milk: If your belching resumes, you may have to find another source of calcium, he says.
Take a test. If you've investigated several causes of excessive burping and still don't have a clue, have your doctor perform a Heidelberg test. This quick office procedure checks the acid level of your stomach. While extra acid can lead to ulcers, low acid can slow digestion, causing burping, says Dr. Gaby.
Add some acid. If you're a touch low on stomach acid, you may need to add some with the first few bites of your meal. Hydrochloric acid tablets are available at most health food stores, says Dr. Gaby.