On average, we ‘pass wind’ around fifteen times a day, but it’s not unusual to do it more, or less, than this. Much of the time we don’t even notice, as most of the gases are odourless and are often released in small quantities.
Wind only has a bad smell if it contains certain gases that smell, such as sulphur, but even then, it’s a normal and very important bodily function. We’re simply releasing air that we swallow naturally while eating, drinking, or removing saliva from the mouth, plus the gases that occur naturally during digestion.
When it becomes excessive or difficult to control, though, it can lead to embarrassment or feeling uncomfortable around other people.
How does it become excessive?
Excessive flatulence can be a result of swallowing more air than usual or eating food that is difficult to digest. It is also one of the symptoms of IBS – 80% of sufferers experience wind.
If you smoke, chew gum, wear loose-fitting dentures, suck hard sweets or don't chew your food properly, you’re likely to swallow more air.
Certain types of food, especially ‘unabsorbable’ carbohydrates present in some vegetables, fruit and pulses, cause a build-up of gas, too. A lot of our modern diet contains carbohydrates, and over 500 different types of bacteria in the colon will try to break them down, releasing gas that we then emit as flatulence.
Do I see my GP?
There’s no ‘normal’ level of flatulence. If it troubles you in terms of how often or how strong the smell is, or if it’s affecting your quality of life in some way, then it’s worth discussing it with your pharmacist, nurse of GP.
If you experience flatulence in conjunction with any of the following symptoms, you should consider discussing it with your GP:
- Persistent abdominal pain and bloating, including stomach or bowel cramps
- Recurring episodes of diarrhoea or constipation
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bowel incontinence
- Blood in your stools (faeces)
- Signs of an infection, such as a high temperature, vomiting, chills, joint pain and muscle pain
What can I do about flatulence?
Your GP can help you find ways to control flatulence, and this may include treatment such as charcoal tablets. Often, you can bring wind under control with simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, like avoiding unabsorbable carbohydrates, eating smaller and more frequent meals, eating and drinking more slowly, and taking regular exercise.
Remember – if your flatulence is related to an underlying health problem, treating it might help resolve the problem.