Can Acid Reflux Cause Painful Coughing?

Acid reflux is uncomfortable and is a significant issue in the daily lives of some individuals, especially when it turns to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Many people experience it in their day-to-day lives. Still, the majority fail to realize how these occasional acid refluxes can lead to severe forms of acid problems in our bodies. One of them is GERD.

GERD is a chronic condition where acid from the stomach flows back to the esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn and regurgitation.

People with GERD experience painful refluxes at least twice a week, and if gone undiagnosed, it can turn into a severe issue in no time.

1. Connection Between GERD and Chronic Coughing

Chronic Coughing
Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya from Pexels

There is a well-established connection between GERD and chronic coughing. Chronic cough can be a sign of GERD, mainly at night or after meals.

Studies and research conducted at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have estimated that GERD is responsible for over 25 percent of all cases of chronic cough. Classic GERD symptoms like heartburn and regurgitation alongside a cough often point to a GERD-related cough.

Physicians recommend and use combined pH-impedance testing to determine whether nonacid reflux is involved in the condition.

1.1. Theories Explaining GER-Related Cough

How do scientists explain why people with GERD develop chronic coughs? They have created two popular theories to understand this.

Reflux theory, supported by scientific research, is one of them. In this theory, it is said that the reflux rises above the esophagus and upper esophageal sphincter, resulting in micro-aspiration, as microdroplets land in the larynx or occasionally enter the bronchial tree. This causes cough as a protective mechanism.

The other theory in this study is known as the Reflex theory. It says that due to the common embryologic origin of the human respiratory tract, minor amounts of reflux in the esophagus can cause an oesophagobronchial reflex that makes one cough.

2. Heartburn Symptoms and Progression of GERD

Symptoms of GERD get more severe and harmful with time and can start showing daily. Heartburn is a common symptom where one feels a burning pain sensation in the lower chest and middle abdomen, mainly caused by stomach acid.

Other symptoms of this condition include belching, wheezing, trouble swallowing, chest pain, sore throat, and chronic cough.

This pain usually happens after eating anything or mostly at night. It only becomes more severe when bending over or lying down, with a prominent acidic sour or bitter taste in the mouth.

2.1. Challenges in Diagnosing GERD-Related Cough

Chronic Cough
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Regurgitation of stomach contents in the mouth can further increase the discomfort. However, these might very well not be symptoms of this condition. To tackle this problem, the patients can be advised to make dietary changes to assist with the typical management of GERD.

GERD is indeed one of the most common causes of chronic cough, and it can be challenging to diagnose, especially in patients who lack the primary symptom of heartburn. Diagnostic tests such as upper endoscopy, pH testing, and pH impedance testing are used to look for evidence of GERD.

We should be careful about this and take proper steps to stop it from getting to us. Here are some common symptoms that can be seen when a chronic cough is caused by acid reflux symptoms or by GERD, other than heartburn:

  • Coughing and uneasy breathing at night time and particularly after a meal.
  • Uncomfortable feeling and coughing while lying down.
  • Continuous coughs occur in everyday situations without any unnatural substance in the immediate surroundings, like smoke, pollutants, or allergens.
  • Coughing without any medical conditions like Asthma and chest X-rays are standard.

This affliction is associated with chronic coughing, even without heartburn. This is because chronic coughing is generally caused by postnasal drip and asthma.

2.2. GERD in Different Demographics

GERD affects individuals of all ages, including children and infants. Children who experience frequent acid reflux problems are very prone to develop GERD and can show symptoms like heartburn, repeated vomiting, laryngitis, asthma, wheezing, and even pneumonia in some instances. Also, people who have asthma, are obese or are pregnant are at a greater risk of developing GERD.

2.3. Approaches to Managing GERD-Related Chronic Cough

There are established guidelines and treatment protocols for managing GERD and its associated symptoms, including chronic cough.

These patients generally go through tests for pulmonary, like asthma, otolaryngologic etiologies, rhinitis, or post nasal drip, and thorough checkups to detect any respiratory problems and respiratory tract infections.

However, these are done before initiating the trial of the PPIs since these etiologies account for more common coughing and breathing problems.

To successfully perform a trial of the empiric PPI therapies for the sufferer, high doses of twice-daily PPIs for two to three months must be provided. Unfortunately, this routine does not guarantee success and fails to resolve the cough in the case of 50 – 70 % of the patients.

3. How do you cure chronic cough caused by acid reflux?

Treating this condition does not have many proven methods yet, but there are clear distinctions between therapies that control acid reflux and those that hold the symptoms of acid reflux.

The management of this condition typically involves lifestyle changes and medication, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are the most common approaches if the cough is GERD-related. At the same time, antacids neutralize existing stomach acid to alleviate symptoms.

Reflux medication can help certain patients with chronic cough. However, many do not improve, and it is hard to know if treating acid reflux is helpful.

Treatment of GERD
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

3.1. Lifestyle Change

Specific changes in lifestyle habits are critical to ensure better health and reduce the effects of gastroesophageal problems (GERD) if you are already suffering. One of the most common symptoms and prime actions is avoiding foods that worsen the problem.

This condition weakens or relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, a collection of muscles at the end of the esophagus, and allows the stomach’s contents to reach the food pipe, causing uneasy sensations and discomfort.

Avoiding alcoholic beverages, over-caffeinated beverages, too much chocolate, citrus fruits, deep-fried fatty foods, garlic, mint, spice, and tomato-based dishes like pizza, salsa, and spaghetti sauce can result in better health.

Avoid lying down for at least two and a half hours after a heavy meal, avoid continuous food intake in lesser amounts, and avoid not eating for an extended period. All these make the stomach more prone to indelible acid reflux and pose the possibility of GERD rising.

Smoking and drinking regularly can also account for the acidic reflux and, in turn, might cause chronic coughing and other added discomforts. Apart from eating and drinking habits, a few changes in the objective practices of the habits can also prove to be of a lot of help.

Keeping the head raised around 6-8 cm from the bed while sleeping and wearing loose-fitted clothes from below the abdomen can help the stomach to work more efficiently and stop causing discomfort.

3.2. Medication and Treatment Options

Medications can effectively deal with stomach acid cases that are not too severe. Antacids like Alka-Seltzer, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Tums can be pretty effective if taken in the correct instance.

Foaming agents like Gaviscon can also be quite helpful, as they lessen the stomach’s acid contents by forming an antacid on reacting to the stomach acid. Also, H2 blockers, such as PEPcid, can decrease stomach acid production.

When none of these are available on hand, swallowing a spoonful of baking soda, rated relatively high on the pH scale, can help neutralize stomach acid, reduce heartburn symptoms, and provide relief for the time being.

3.3. Seeking Professional Help: When to Consult a Doctor

Profesional help
Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

Ongoing symptoms of GERD should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider, regardless of initial treatment outcomes. If symptoms persist despite initial treatments, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider for further evaluation.

At that point, other treatment options that are otherwise unknown to the general public can prove helpful. Surgery can sometimes be a way out of GERD cough; thus, consulting a doctor is an absolute must.

Suppose one suffers from any discussed symptoms regularly for a prolonged period, even to the degree that only causes little to mild discomfort; a specialist should be consulted, as this might lead to something innately severe. It is always appreciated if the person undergoing any symptoms of extreme discomfort consults a doctor with utmost urgency.

4. The Gist

Acid reflux can lead to chronic cough. Scientifically proven methods of diagnosing and treating GERD cough are effective and can significantly improve symptoms and quality of life.

The best way out of this problem is to care for the body. If someone follows a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and regular exercise, maintains a healthy weight, and focuses on staying rightly hydrated, they can easily skip experiencing painful and discomforting symptoms or suffering.

It is also important to consult health care providers as soon as symptoms show up before the condition progresses.

These habits would ensure a more peaceful and healthier future for the fellow. Let us all make sure to be that fellow and take proper care of our health until it is too late and gone out of our hands.

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Michael98