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Chronic or semi permanent cough is a symptom of acid reflux, and is commonly experienced by many suffers. However, many people don’t realize that a chronic cough can be caused by or exacerbated by acid reflux, leading a an acid reflux cough.
How does acid reflux result in coughing? When acid flows back up the esophagus, the esophagus reflexes which results in a spasm of the airways that can lead to shortness of breath and/or coughing. A cough can also result when certain nerves within the esophagus related to the lungs are irritated, which triggers coughing. Thus, acid reflux can cause coughing without ever passing into the throat. It is not uncommon for a cough to be the only acid reflux symptom a person experiences.
Those who suffer from chronic cough usually have frequent cases of reflux that are so severe that they can experience…
Throat and larynx inflammation and damage – If refluxed acid enters the throat and voice box it can cause inflammation which can lead to swelling of the throat tissue. The inflammation and swelling can result in a sore throat and hoarsens, causing coughing. Over time, the constant assault of acid on the throat can lead to damaged throat tissue. When the throat is damaged or inflamed, the throat is irritated, and coughing can result.
Aspiration of acid into the lungs – refluxed acid that passes the larynx can invade the lungs. When acid is refluxed into the lungs this is known as aspiration and can result in coughing and choking. Over time, aspiration can cause damage to lung tissue which can lead to fibrosis (progressive scarring). Aspiration can occur with or without symptoms, and can lead to lung infections that result in pneumonia. Aspiration primarily occurs at night because the digestive processes that help to prevent reflux and the coughing reflex that is designed to protect the lungs are inactive.
Keep in mind; although it is clear that GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can cause and/or exacerbate coughing, it is still not clear how often the symptom of coughing is directly related to acid reflux.
How is chronic cough caused by acid reflux treated? If you suspect that your chronic cough is caused by acid reflux, the best way to treat your cough is to treat your acid reflux. Understand, if your chronic cough is the result of acid reflux, taking over-the-counter medications designed to treat cough due to colds or allergies won’t be beneficial to you. Your goal is not simply to treat coughing symptoms as they occur, it is to prevent the cough by preventing acid reflux. Therefore, the following are some suggestions on how you can attempt to ease a chronic cough:
Lifestyle change: A lifestyle change involves –
Alter eating habits - avoiding foods that are known to trigger acid reflux (I.E. fatty and spicy foods, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, citrus juice and fruits, alcohol, etc.), as well as eating smaller and frequent meals.
- Lose weight – if you are overweight, losing weight will take pressure off your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which reduces the risk of reflux. Engage in exercises such as walking, swimming and cycling. These exercises will not place pressure on your stomach or LES. You should wait for at least an hour after eating before exercising.
- Stop smoking – Smoking increases your risk of acid reflux, but it can also exacerbate chronic bronchitis, which could be something you are suffering from if you are a smoker.
- Prevent acid reflux while sleeping - Acid reflux is more common when we sleep, because the defenses in the digestive system that help to prevent acid reflux are inactive. Thus, to help stop acid reflux from occurring while sleeping, make sure you avoid eating and drinking two to three hours before you lie down. You should also elevate your head approximately 4 inches when lying down to prevent acid from traveling up your esophagus.
It is important to note that while lifestyle changes can be very effective, improvement in your cough symptoms may be slow, and it may take months before your cough is completely cleared.
Medications for Acid reflux: - Taking medications that prevent and block the production of acid such as antacids (Tums) and H2 blockers (Zantac) can help alongside lifestyle changes in alleviating acid reflux symptoms. Another medication known as a proton pump inhibitor is beneficial for those with GERD because it not only stops acid production, it also allows the esophagus healing time. Medications designed to relieve acid reflux symptoms are generally safe for long-term use, but you should speak to you doctor first, as well as be monitored by your doctor if you decide to take any medications.
Other treatment: If your chronic acid reflux cough is still not easing after trying methods to prevent and relieve acid reflux, it’s time for you to seek the help of your doctor. He or she may prescribe a medication known as a bronchodilator which helps to relax the air passages in your lungs to sooth coughing. This medication or another kind may be provided while the doctor runs tests to see if they can determine the cause of your cough, so that they can provide you with the best treatment method.
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