An individual has foaming at the mouth when there is accumulation of excess saliva in the mouth that mixes with air present in the atmosphere causing foam to be produced. If an individual has foaming at the mouth then it, in most cases, indicates a potentially serious underlying medical condition that may require emergent medical attention. Excess flow of saliva in medical terms is termed as sialorrhea. This condition has not been studied in much detail and there is limited data available in the literature. However, there are certain neurologic disorders, heavy metal poisoning, and certain infections that can cause excess production of saliva in the mouth causing foaming.
Additionally, certain medications like clozapine, risperidone, and lithium also are known to cause pooling of saliva in the mouth. At times, people with gastroesophageal reflux disease also tend to have increased saliva production causing foaming at the mouth. Foaming at mouth is quite a common problem in the elderly population based on the limited data that is available, especially with those people who have had a CVA or have a history of esophageal cancer.
It is vital for physicians to understand the importance of foaming at the mouth as an indicator for a serious medical condition and evaluate the patient for such. Once a diagnosis is identified treatment should be rendered immediately to prevent any unwarranted complications. This article showcases in detail some of the potential causes of foaming at the mouth and ways to manage this condition.
What Causes Foaming At The Mouth and What To Do About It?
It is very rare for people to produce large quantity of foam at the mouth. Thus, if an individual has even a little bit of foaming at the mouth then it needs to be carefully evaluated and treated accordingly. Foaming at the mouth in most cases is associated with disorders of the central nervous system which can have life threatening implications. The most common etiologies for foaming at mouth include:
Drug Overdose: This usually occurs in individuals who abuse recreational drugs. At times, these people tend to consume more than the body can process in the form of toxins. This at times can cause the individual to have seizures. An episode of seizure will cause pooling of saliva in the mouth which when mixes with air causes foaming to occur.
An individual with drug overdose may also have pulmonary edema or myocardial infarctions both of which can cause foaming at the mouth. A drug overdose does not allow the heart and lungs to function normally. This causes buildup of fluids around these organs. The carbon dioxide present in the body then mixes with these fluids forming froth to build up in the mouth. This froth comes out in the form of foam from the mouth.
Seizures: An individual with diagnosed epilepsy can also have foaming at the mouth during an episode of convulsions. There are different types of seizures and the type which causes foaming at the mouth is termed as a tonic-clonic seizure. Some of the other presenting features of a tonic-clinic seizure include loss of consciousness and whole body convulsions. There is complete loss of muscle control and the body may experience violent shaking during the episode.
Rabies: This is yet another cause of foaming at the mouth. It is a viral infection that is caused when saliva of the infected animal comes in contact with a human. This usually happens when an infected animal bites a human. In some cases, a human may contact rabies infection when the saliva of the infected animal comes in contact with an open wound of an individual.
Rabies infection causes increased production of saliva causing it to pool in the mouth and cause foaming. Additionally, the infection also causes complete paralysis of the throat muscles making it difficult to swallow anything. This infection however is extremely rare in the United States and according to CDC not more than 3 cases of this infection are diagnosed every year.
Coming to managing foaming at the mouth, treating the cause is the way to go to stop it. An individual with a drug overdose should be taken to the nearest emergency room for treatment. For this, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms as the affected individual may only have anywhere from one to three hours before perishing to this condition. The symptoms of a drug overdose include fainting, dilation of pupils, body temperature difference, slowed breathing, seizures, and pale skin.
While waiting for emergency services to arrive the patient should be rolled to the side and make sure that the airways are open. It is important to note here that constant supervision of the patient is necessary until help arrives for the patient with a drug overdose. People who have overdose due to chemicals or alcohol may require detoxification through activated charcoal.
Overdose caused by opioids require administration of Narcan which immediately reverses the reaction. It usually takes a couple of days of inpatient stay for an individual to completely recover from a drug overdose.
Seizures: An individual with a known diagnosis of epilepsy who is having a convulsion should be kept away from harm’s way. This is because the patient may have an injury as a result of uncontrolled flailing of the arms and legs. This can be done by removing any furniture and electrical appliances from near the patient. It is important to be with the patient for the entire duration of the seizure. Once the episode stops, the patient should be rolled to one side. It is also important to make sure that the airways are clear for the patient to breathe normally.
An individual with diagnosed epilepsy does not need to go to the emergency room every time they have an episode. However, they need complete rest till they get over the postconvulsive period. Emergency medical care should be given for patients who have idiopathic seizures or the seizures are severe. Additionally, individuals who have seizures for more than 3 minutes should be taken to the emergency room for immediate treatment.
Rabies Infection: This is an emergent medical situation and the affected individual should get an immunization shot at the earliest possible time. Immediately after being bitten by a stray animal, the individual should wash the affected area with soap and water thoroughly. It should be noted that once an individual gets infected with rabies then there is no cure for the condition. Immunization is of vital importance if an individual feels that he or she might have been exposed to rabies virus after being bitten by an animal.
In conclusion, foaming at the mouth signifies a serious underlying medical condition. The most common cause for foaming at the mouth is a drug overdose. People with epilepsy also tend to have foaming at the mouth during a convulsion episode. People who contract rabies infection also have excess production of saliva which causes foaming at the mouth.
If an individual starts foaming at the mouth then it is important for people nearby to ensure that the patient is breathing normally and immediately inform the emergency services so that the patient can be treated on time to prevent any life-threatening complications. If timely treatment is not given, then the underlying cause of foaming at the mouth may lead to organ failure and the patient may even succumb to the condition. Thus foaming at the mouth requires proper treatment for a better prognosis.