Chronic Cough and GERD

If you’re one of the 20% of Americans living with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you’re probably all too familiar with burning sensations in your chest and throat. Many people with GERD also experience chronic cough. This may be a direct symptom of GERD, it can also signal different health concerns. Read on to learn more about chronic cough caused by GERD, and how to tell if acid reflux is to blame for your frequent coughing.

How are Chronic Cough and GERD related?

GERD occurs when the valve that separates the esophagus and the stomach is weakened or abnormally relaxed. This allows stomach acid to backup into the esophagus, where it causes pain and potential long-term damage.

There are three main theories for how this could cause a chronic cough:

1. Reflux theory – Acid reflux rises high enough to reach the upper esophageal sphincter (in the throat). Small amounts of this fluid make their way into the upper respiratory tract where cough is triggered as a protective measure.

2. Reflex theory – Acid reflux creates irritation and causes contractions in the esophagus. Bronchi in the lower respiratory tract could then contract in response, causing a cough.

3. Swallowing problems – Trouble swallowing caused by GERD may cause trace amounts of food to be inhaled into the respiratory tract, triggering cough.

Is your Chronic Cough Caused by GERD?

Because there are many different causes of chronic cough, yours may not be related to GERD. Some of the methods doctors use to determine if your cough is due to GERD include:

  • Proton pump inhibitor trial – Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are frequently taken by GERD patients, and work by reducing the production of gastric acid. If a PPI trial improves cough symptoms, it’s likely the cough is GERD related.
  • Endoscopy and pH testing – These diagnostic tests are used to look for evidence of GERD, and can be helpful in diagnosing people without classic GERD symptoms.
  • Cough occurrence – If your chronic cough is worse after eating or when lying down it may be GERD related. A chronic cough that flares up during physical activity or comes with a post-nasal drip is less likely to be associated with GERD.
  • Ruling out other causes of cough – Your doctor might also perform diagnostic tests to rule out asthma or post-nasal drip, and may even place you on a drug trial for one of these illnesses to see if your cough improves.

Managing Chronic Cough due to GERD

If your doctor thinks your chronic cough and GERD are related, there are a few things you can do to manage your symptoms.

  • Proton pump inhibitors – By reducing the amount of acid produced by your stomach, reflux will be less irritating and less likely to trigger cough.
  • Antacids – In cases where PPIs cause unwanted side effects or GERD symptoms are milder, over-the-counter antacids may relieve your cough.
  • Avoid lying down for several hours after a meal, as this can worsen reflux and cough.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day to reduce reflux symptoms.

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DISCLAIMER: The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.