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Posted by on Mar 19, 2017 in Tell Me Why |

Why Can You Not Breathe When You Swallow?

Why Can You Not Breathe When You Swallow?

You are not able to breathe when you swallow because your respiratory (breathing) system is closely linked to your alimentary (nourishing) system. In fact, both the air you breathe and the food you eat travel down the pharynx, a wide muscular tube situated behind the nose and mouth.

The air must reach the larynx or “voice box” on its way to the trachea (principal air passage) and the lungs, while the food has to go by way of the oesophagus (gullet) and stomach. Obviously, some kind of device must be used to prevent the two from becoming mixed up.

Swallowing temporarily interrupts breathing by closing the air passages while food is propelled from the mouth to the gullet and stomach. If a particle of food goes the wrong way the lungs respond immediately by trying to expel the food with a cough.

Also some air does find its way to the stomach and can, if excessive, cause flatulence or “wind”, but that won’t cause as many problems as when you get foods or liquids in your lungs (what we often call “swallowing the wrong way”–it causes discomfort and coughing as the lungs try to expel the food or liquid).

Content for this question contributed by Andrea Kilfoil, resident of Nelson, Northumberland County, New Brunswick, Canada