What Happens When You Swallow Gum By Accident

Chewing gum is widely enjoyed in the United States (in fact, more people chew gum than not), and once you're done, you usually spit it out — hopefully into the garbage. Sometimes, though, instead of into the trash can, it winds up unintentionally going down the hatch and into your gullet. If you've done this, you've probably wondered what exactly happens when you swallow gum by accident. 

You might have heard an old wives' tale that it takes a whopping seven years to digest any gum you've inadvertently swallowed, and that might give you cause for concern — after all, something sitting in your stomach (or stuck to your intestines) for that long can't be healthy, right? Thankfully, it's simply not true. 

How long does gum really stay in your stomach?

While gum isn't soluble (or digestible), it, like everything else that winds up in your stomach, moves right along your gastrointestinal tract and finds its way out via the usual exit and into the toilet. Every 30 to 120 minutes, in fact, your stomach empties itself of its contents (gum included) — a far cry from seven years. "In all the upper endoscopies I have done in both children and adults, I have yet to see a wad of gum lying around in the stomach," gastroenterologist Nancy McGreal, MD told Duke Health.

However, while swallowing gum isn't harmful, you don't want to make a habit of it. In other words, don't sit there and swallow 12 pieces of gum every single day. While this is more of a problem in children, significant amounts of swallowed gum can result in intestinal blockage, which is a serious medical problem (via Mayo Clinic). 

Another issue is that the natural or artificial sweeteners that are used in sugar-free varieties can cause unpleasant symptoms if you swallow gum on the regular. These symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, or headaches.

For those who swallow gum by accident, though, rest assured that it's harmless and exits your body in the same timely manner as all of the other foods you eat. It's likely the myth that it takes years for gum to digest stemmed from parents trying to keep their kids from swallowing their chewing gum, and has no basis in fact.