What happens when we swallow gum?

Chewing gum is prized for relieving bad breath, being a tasty snack, and even fighting to quit smoking. But the legend says that if we inadvertently swallow a piece of gum, it will remain in the stomach for seven years. It’s true?

Swallowing a piece of gum from time to time is usually harmless. However, there is some truth to the rumor that you can’t digest gum. In fact, your stomach can’t break down that chewing gum, since it’s mostly made from synthetic ingredients. As a result, it moves intact through the digestive tract until it is excreted in the feces.

Exactly how long that takes is not known, and it likely depends on a variety of factors, such as how much gum we swallow and how quickly the digestive system moves. It is not uncommon to eat things that the body cannot digest. For example, foods like raw seeds and corn also pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being broken down much.

digestive tract blockage

Although swallowing a piece of gum from time to time is not bad, doctors do not recommend that we make it a habit due to the possibility of complications. For example, in rare cases, swallowing too much gum, especially over a short period of time, can cause a blockage in the digestive tract.

An intestinal obstruction can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps and pain, loss of appetite, constipation, vomiting, inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas, or swelling of the abdomen. If left untreated, it can also cause permanent damage or infection to the digestive tract.

And that’s not the only complication to consider. There is concern that the gum will enter the trachea. Although rare, if chewing gum enters the trachea, it can enter the lungs and this can lead to problems such as shortness of breath, choking, and coughing. Any foreign object found where it shouldn’t be in the body is cause for concern and can lead to removal procedures that could have been avoided.

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Special care for children

These risks are more pronounced when it comes to children. Children are more likely to experience choking episodes and intestinal obstructions due to ingestion of gum compared to adults. With children, everything is done in a big way: they will chew four or five pieces of gum to pop the biggest bubble. They may innocently try to swallow and end up suffocating. As their choking reflex is not as developed as adults, this is very dangerous.

According to doctors, occasionally swallowing gum is generally harmless. However, it is best not to get used to it and always avoid swallowing large pieces of gum, as this can put you at risk of a lung or intestinal obstruction. Also, it is important to avoid giving gum (especially large portions) to young children and to closely monitor older children when they chew gum, as they are at higher risk of choking.