One of the symptoms of acid reflux that’s often overlooked is a chronic cough. This is because at first glance there appears to be little or no relationship between the two. It can also be attributed to the fact that a cough is a relatively common occurrence and the result of numerous other causes, such as a cold, the flu, bronchitis, etc.
The truth, however, is that acid reflux is the third leading cause of a chronic cough, following on the heels of bronchial asthma and post-nasal drip (when the sinuses produce too much mucus).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the medical term for what we know as acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the stomach releases its liquid back into the esophagus, causing inflammation and damage to the esophageal lining. The regurgitated acid most often consists of a few compounds: acid, bile, and pepsin. Stomach acid is used in the digestion of food and can be a major irritant to the esophagus due to its tendency to damage tissues.
The symptoms of acid reflux include nausea, belching, a sore throat, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, a pain in the chest that’s often mistaken for a heart attack, and in some cases chronic coughing. In fact, nearly three out of every four sufferers experience night time symptoms (such as coughing, snoring, and chest pain) that are not generally thought of as typical acid reflux symptoms. An acid reflux cough is one of these. It’s caused when acid reaches the vocal cords and is passed to the lower airway.
Even in relatively small quantities, this can trigger coughing. Since such small quantities can initiate an acid reflux cough, sufferers are often unaware that they even have GERD. In fact, they may not have heartburn in the traditional sense, considering that there’s little or no damage to the lining of the esophagus when the acid level is so limited.
So, how can you be sure that your nagging cough is not cold or flu related? If you have none of the other typical symptoms, such as the sniffles, a slight fever, throat irritation, heaviness in the chest, etc., accompanying your cough, then you need to consider other causes. Though you can experience an acid reflux cough without experiencing any of the other symptoms of GERD, if you’re experiencing both, then it’s time to visit with your doctor. He can help you determine whether or not your cough is acid reflux related.
There’s another clue that you might want to consider as well. Most people will turn to cough syrup when they have a nagging cough. Surprisingly, an acid reflux cough probably won’t respond to cough syrup. However, it may very well respond to an antacid. If you find that’s the case in your situation, then that’s a big time clue of the cause behind your cough.
Beyond antacids, your physician may want to prescribe something stronger. If your acid reflux is severe, this may include a proton pump inhibitor such as Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, or Aciphex. These medications are designed to block acid production, which allows the lining of the esophagus an opportunity to heal. Side effects, however, can include abdominal pain, diarrhea and headaches.
If your acid reflux is relatively mild, all it may take to put an end to your chronic cough is some lifestyle changes. For instance, you’ll want to eat more often throughout the day, with your meals being smaller. You’ll want to allow at least three hours after your last meal before you go to bed (this reduces the odds that stomach acid will rise into the esophagus). You’ll want to avoid foods that are commonly associated with GERD, such as chocolate, dairy products, fried foods, and citrus fruits. These little changes may very well be all you need to put an end to your acid reflux cough.