While anyone may feel short of breath after a strenuous activity, shortness of breath during or following meals may indicate a specific medical issue. Dyspnea, the feeling of breathing difficulty, results from mechanical abnormalities or biochemical stimuli that send a distress signal to the central nervous system, according to Merck. Triggers for dyspnea may include chronic illnesses, allergic reactions, toxins in foods or damage from inhaled objects, though in some cases the symptoms may occur long after mealtime.
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Shortness of breath often occurs in conjunction with disorders of the heart or lungs. Even the slightest exertion, such as the task of eating, can cause shortness of breath in people with lung disease. People suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for instance, experience oxygen deprivation after eating because the extra muscular effort of eating consumes extra oxygen, according to a study performed by the Mount Sinai Hospital Center of Cote Saint Luc, Canada.
People may experience shortness of breath after eating as the result of an allergic reaction. Some foods contain substances that produce a histamine reaction in sensitive subjects, causing swelling within the bronchial system or oesophagus. This condition, known as anaphylaxis, may prove fatal without immediate medical attention. In more moderate cases, however, allergies may merely produce wheezing from bronchial congestion or swollen nasal passages. The Mayo Clinic warns that an allergic reaction to food may not occur for up to an hour after eating.
In some cases, a piece of food can damage or obstruct the oesophagus. Science Links Japan reported on a patient who had inadvertently swallowed some fishbones while eating. The fishbones lodged in the patient's oesophagus, causing a hematoma in his neck and fluid build-up in his oesophagus, resulting in severe shortness of breath. Merck points out that sudden shortness of breath and coughing in a child or infant may indicate the inhalation of a foreign object.
Some foods have toxic qualities that cause cause breathing difficulties as well as other serious or even fatal symptoms, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Foods contaminated by botulism can cause respiratory failure, general paralysis and death. The pufferfish contains a venom that can lead to difficulty breathing or swallowing, eventually resulting in death. Depending on the toxin involved, food poisoning may appear as soon as 30 minutes after eating or up to four weeks later.
The nature of the symptoms can help determine the cause of an attack of dyspnea. A history of heart or lung disease, for instance, indicates that the shortness of breath stems from the physical exertion involved in eating. Dyspnea accompanied by a pins-and-needles sensation in the mouth or swelling points to an allergic reaction. Dizziness or a racing pulse on top of these allergic symptoms signals an attack of anaphylaxis requiring emergency medical help. Dyspnea caused by esophageal damage or obstruction may reveal its cause only after a series of medical tests.
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