Coughing Acid Reflux: What it is and How to Treat it


If you experience persistent, dry coughing, coughing acid reflux is one possible cause of the problem.  This might come as a surprise to you, since you may not experience all of the typical symptoms of acid reflux disease, which include heartburn, regurgitation, hoarseness, sore throat, bad breath, and a sensation of having food stuck in the throat.  If you experience few or none of these symptoms, you might be wondering how it’s possible that your coughing could be related to acid reflux.  First, it might be helpful to understand the causes and mechanisms of acid reflux.

Acid reflux occurs when food and stomach acid are regurgitated from the stomach back through the esophagus.  The esophagus is the tube that travels from your mouth to your stomach, and there is muscle where the esophagus meets the stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES.  The job of the LES is to serve as a one-way valve that lets food into the stomach, and then closes so that food can’t travel back into the esophagus.  Acid reflux happens when the LES isn’t doing its job.

There are many different factors that can cause the LES to malfunction.  Whether occasional or frequent, overeating can block the LES from closing completely.  Other conditions may cause the LES to open at the wrong time.  Smoking, excessive caffeine consumption, and certain medications can also contribute to acid reflux.  There is not always a clear, identifiable cause in people who suffer from acid reflux.

Coughing and acid reflux go hand in hand because stomach acid that is released from the stomach may travel back through the esophagus to the throat and larynx.  In some cases the esophagus might be able to deal with this acidic assault, while the throat and larynx cannot.  It is this acid irritation that can lead to a persistent cough.

In rare cases, stomach acid can also cause the development of another type of coughing.  Coughing acid reflux can cause stomach acid to move through the throat and into the lungs.  This can result in a dry, persistent acid reflux cough that is accompanied by respiratory disorders like pneumonia or bronchitis.  This can sometimes be mistaken for asthma, and may also exacerbate symptoms in people who have already been diagnosed with asthma.

The best way to avoid coughing acid reflux is to prevent acid reflux from occurring.  This can be achieved by avoiding overeating, and avoiding foods that commonly cause acid reflux.  Some foods to avoid are anything overly greasy, carbonated drinks, chocolate, tomato sauces, garlic and onions, spicy foods, and acidic foods like citrus fruits, for example.  In general, avoid any food that is considered a typical trigger for heartburn, then coughing acid reflux will be a non-issue.

Eating frequent, small meals, as well as using loose-fitting clothing can also help relieve acid reflux coughing.  These strategies help prevent putting too much pressure on the LES that may cause it to fail to close completely.

Acid reflux cough can also be controlled by using over the counter medications that work by either neutralizing stomach acid, or by decreasing production of stomach acid.

If dietary modification and over the counter medicines don’t work to alleviate your dry cough, you should see your doctor for a definitive diagnosis and long term treatment plan. Coughing acid reflux can be treated before developing into a more serious condition.