There’s always that one person: the dad who comfortably belches away while reclining on the sofa after dinner. The ex-boyfriend with the Mountain Dew addiction whose burps were almost symphonic. The grandma who laughs uproariously every time she lets one out.
It’s funny—until it’s not.
Surprisingly, a lot of burping—up to 10 times a day—is considered normal, said Dr. Satish Rao, a digestive health specialist at the Augusta University Health Digestive Health Center. But if you’re burping a lot more than that? That’s a potential problem—whether it’s annoying to your friends and family or an actual health issue that’s causing all this extra gas.
Why We Burp
“Essentially, how much we burp depends on how much air we swallow,” said Rao. “Every time we swallow, we swallow about 15 to 20 milliliters of air.”
So, for example, when we eat a meal, it’s safe to say we might swallow 30 times. That’s roughly 500 milliliters of air—equal to two cups. Those of us who snore or “mouth breathe” also swallow air while we’re sleeping. Gum chewing adds more. Then top it off with lots of fizzy sodas, and it’s no surprise that we’re belching or passing gas all the time. “This air only has two outlets,” said Rao.
So if your burping is bothering those around you, or if you’re socially embarrassed, cut back on your sodas or gum. Eat more slowly to help keep from gulping air along with food. Ask your partner if you snore or mouth breathe, and talk to a sleep specialist, especially if the snoring is also affecting how well you or your partner are sleeping.
When We Burp Way Too Much
Say you fix all of these—and you’re still burping more than 10 times a day. A health problem could be causing all that extra gas in your belly, and it might be worth talking to your primary care provider about it to see about a referral to a gastroenterologist.
Reflux disease or GERD: This type of burping usually comes with a lot of heartburn; as you burp, you bring up acid from your stomach, said Rao, which has the potential for long-term esophageal damage. Triggers are usually spicy or acidic foods, but also include chocolate, caffeine, mint and alcohol. “Caffeine, for example, weakens the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, allowing air and fluids to come back up into the esophagus from the stomach,” said Rao.
Peptic ulcers: These are sores that develop in the stomach, lower esophagus or small intestine from bacteria or overuse of pain relievers like aspirin. Along with burping, there’s usually pain and sometimes bleeding.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: As the name suggests, this is when your small intestine has too much bacteria, whether because of a chronic disease, medication or your unique anatomy. Along with burping, you’ll experience diarrhea, weight loss and eventual vitamin deficiency.
Food intolerances: If your body can’t tolerate lactose, which is commonly in dairy products, or fructose, which is found in fruits and also in many processed foods, you can experience reactions that include burping.
“Excessive burping can even be the only symptom with these conditions,” said Rao. “So it’s possible you can live for years with a condition without knowing it, until someone else notices and you seek attention.”
A Note on Food
While some foods can cause burping—like sodas, or if you have a lactose intolerance—most of the time, the foods we eat cause gas to come out the other way. Beans, for example, are sometimes blamed for causing belching, “but they have to go all the way to the colon before they cause mischief,” said Rao. “So it’s jolly hard for gas to come from the colon all the way back up the esophagus.”
But if you feel as though what you’re eating might be leading to uncomfortable or embarrassing gas—no matter which way it comes out—try limiting those foods. For example, said Rao, “I can eat a lot of onions with no problem, but for someone else, onions cause belching. It is very much an individual thing.”