Chronic Cough: Acid Reflux Complications

Chronic Cough Acid Reflux ComplicationsAcid reflux disease develops when the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES, becomes faulty. When working efficiently, the valve opens to allow food to pass into the stomach, and closes to stop acid from flowing back into the esophagus. When dysfunctional, the LES allows stomach acid to irritate the esophageal lining, resulting in inflammation and heart burn.

When acid reflux becomes chronic, a collection of complications may develop. One such complication is a chronic cough.

If your chronic cough is caused by acid reflux, it will usually meet the following criteria:

  • Non-productive: An acid reflux cough does not typically produce phlegm, but instead is shallow and dry.
  • Persistent: When caused by acid reflux, the coughing becomes chronic, sometimes lasting months.
  • Timely: The coughing may grow worse after eating, following exercise or at bedtime.

The Cause of Coughing

A chronic cough is different than the type of cough you may develop with a cold. This cough does not go away after several days or even several weeks. The cough is typically shallow, resulting from tickling and irritation to the esophagus rather than from fluid build-up in the lungs. However, in severe cases it is possible for acid reflux to reach the lungs, putting you at risk for pneumonia and a deeper cough.

Chronic coughing from acid reflux is associated with symptoms like:

  • Feeling of a lump in the throat
  • Earaches
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Laryngitis
  • Asthma

Acid reflux disease is the leading cause of chronic coughing. The cough may develop even in the absence of typical acid reflux symptoms, such as regurgitation and heartburn. Chronic cough from acid reflux is usually diagnosed in the absence of other probable causes of coughing, such as smoking or the use of some medications.

Treating Acid Reflux Cough

When a chronic cough develops as a result of acid reflux disease, it does not goes away with time, and generally does not find relief from simple solutions like cough drops. The cough can often be treated by addressing the underlying cause of it, which is acid reflux disease.

Avoiding certain foods, drinking plenty of water and sleeping with the head of the bed elevated a few inches may decrease the severity of the cough. Acid reflux medications are shown to temporarily alleviate chronic cough that develops as a result of GERD.

Joan Dudko
Hello, Dr. Bagnato, Thank you for your article. I am currently suffering with a terrible cough that has gone on for months. My gastro and my ent say it is acid reflux. I thought I had heard of a simple surgery to correct the problem, that is why I have been searching on line. Have you heard of any such surgery? I will appreciate any input you can give me. Thank you, Joan Dudko

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