I’m a tummy doctor – here’s the truth about swallowing chewing gum and when you must see a doctor

“Don’t swallow chewing gum, it’ll stay in your stomach for seven years,” the old saying goes. 

This is a phrase many of us will be familiar with, having been told it by worried parents as we loudly chewed and popped bubbles. 

The idea that gum stays in your body for years is a common mythGetty Images

But parents everywhere can finally relax: gum, like other foods, can be digested by our bodies. 

But, this is not to say gum is okay to swallow. 

Dr Sara Mesilhy, a gastroenterologist, explains why regularly swallowing chewing gum can be dangerous – and in some cases requires a hospital visit. 

What happens when you swallow gum?

When you swallow gum, it enters your stomach just like any other food.

However, because the stomach is not designed to break down the gum base, it can take longer for the gum to be processed.

This means that it may remain in your stomach for a longer period than other foods. 

However, the idea that gum stays in your body for years is a common myth. 

In reality, the chewing gum will eventually pass out of your system like any other food, but it might take a bit longer.

What are the risks of swallowing gum?

Gulping down a large quantity of gum or several small bits over a short time can cause a blockage within the digestive system. 

This is because the indigestible gum base can accumulate and form a mass that blocks the digestive tract. 

Symptoms of a blockage can include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Some types of gum contain sugar alcohols, which can cause gastrointestinal issues such as bloating and diarrhoea.

When to see a doctor

Accidentally inhaling gum into your lungs can cause serious respiratory issues.

So if you do this, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

If you experience any symptoms after swallowing gum, or are concerned about the potential risks, it’s always a good idea to speak with a doctor.

As long as you’re aware of the potential risks and take steps to minimise them, there’s no need to worry too much about the occasional piece of swallowed gum.