Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when acidic stomach juices, food or fluids from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. It is not unusual to have mild or occasional symptoms, but people have bothersome or persistent symptoms. When acid travels up the esophagus and gets into the throat, it is called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). LPR can be “silent” meaning you have little or no symptoms. GERD affects people of all ages—from infants to older adults.
People with asthma are at higher risk of developing GERD. Asthma flare-ups can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing stomach contents to flow back, or reflux, into the esophagus. On the other hand, acid reflux can make asthma symptoms worse by irritating the airways and lungs. This, in turn, can lead to progressively more serious asthma. Also, this irritation can trigger allergic reactions and make the airways more sensitive to environmental conditions such as smoke or cold air.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
- Heartburn Chest Pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting Bad breath
- Regurgitation of food/fluids or acid Hoarseness
- Post-nasal drip Chronic sore throat
- Chronic cough Throat clearing
- Pain or difficulty with swallowing Wheezing /uncontrolled asthma
- Lack of eating/weight loss (mainly in children) Worsening dental disease
- Stomach pain Chronic sinusitis
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?
Lifestyle changes can be very helpful. Many foods and drinks can make your symptoms worse and it is important that these be eliminated. Pregnancy can also worsen reflux disease.
Avoidance of the following can be helpful: onion, garlic, fried, fatty, spicy or tomato based foods (like French fries, chili, pizza, etc.) chocolate, mints (especially peppermint), tobacco smoke, alcohol (especially at night before bed), caffeine (coffee, tea, caffeinated beverages) and carbonated beverages.
Losing weight if you’re overweight and avoiding tight fitting clothing.
Eat small meals slowly. Eat five small meals instead of three large meals.
Don’t eat or drink alcohol at least 3 hours before going to bed. Avoid heavy evening meals.
Elevate the head of your bed 6-8 inches. Place a wood or cinder block under the legs of the head of your bed. A wedge pillow may be helpful. Placing several pillows under your head is not a substitute.
Your physician may also recommend medications to treat reflux or relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter antacids and H2 blockers may help decrease the effects of stomach acid. Proton pump inhibitors block acid production and are also very effective.
If you have both GERD and asthma, managing your GERD will help control your asthma symptoms. Studies have shown that people with asthma and GERD saw a decrease in asthma symptoms (and asthma medication use) after treating their reflux disease.
Our board-certified allergists at North Texas Allergy & Asthma Center can help determine if reflux is playing a role in your cough or with your allergy and asthma symptoms. Give us a call and make an appointment today.
ROSHNI FOSTER, MD, PhD
Board Certified Allergist