man trying to stop a gerd cough

Can GERD cause coughing?  Absolutely. 

Some studies indicate that 25 percent or even more of cases of chronic cough may have some type of association with GERD, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine.

Coughing may not be the first symptom you think of when GERD is mentioned, but a chronic, constant hack can be an annoying part of the disease. 

If you have this and are wondering how to get rid of a GERD cough, we’ve got the answers. We’ll also explore what GERD is, what causes it and how we can help.

What is GERD?

GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. This occurs when part of the stomach’s acidic contents move up through the throat (esophagus).  This causes heartburn. 

However, this is no ordinary heartburn. 

The heartburn caused by GERD is persistent, and it’s often not relieved by using antacids. You may have trouble swallowing and even vomit. In more extreme cases, GERD can cause respiratory problems and wear away your tooth enamel.

What Causes GERD?

Typically, GERD is caused by problems with your lower esophageal sphincter. This is the part of your esophagus that tightens in order to keep stomach acids from backing into your throat. When this sphincter is weakened, the acid irritates your esophageal lining, causing inflammation.

Sometimes, certain medications can cause GERD, according to the Mayo Clinic. These may include certain antibiotics, iron supplements and even pain relievers such as ibuprofen.

What Are the Symptoms of GERD?

GERD can cause an extensive set of symptoms including:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Severe heartburn
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
  • A chronic cough (aka a GERD cough)
  • Laryngitis or hoarseness
  • Sleep problems

Can GERD Cause Coughing?

Yes. not only can GERD cause a dry cough, but it can also lead to hoarseness. In addition, GERD can agitate asthma, causing symptoms such as wheezing, according to the National Institute of Health. [https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/11/feeling-burn] 

Even if you’re not having the traditional GERD symptoms like heartburn, your chronic cough may still be caused by GERD. Many are surprised to learn that the issue behind their cough is not a cold, but is gastroesophageal reflux.

What is a GERD cough?

It’s a hacking cough that does not produce mucus (a dry cough). It’s also a chronic cough, meaning it has not shown improvement in eight weeks. It’s generally worse at night.

Sometimes, this may be mistaken for coughs caused by other problems such as allergies or postnasal drip. 

It’s important to have your chronic cough evaluated by one of our ENT doctors. In addition to being annoying and troublesome, there’s a possibility that a lingering cough with hoarseness that resists treatment could be a part of a more serious illness

We’ll be able to determine if the cause of your cough is from allergies or if you have a type of GERD. Once we have a diagnosis, we’ll work with you to create a solution. 

How can I stop a GERD cough?

In some cases, some lifestyle adjustments can eliminate or minimize the effects of GERD. If not, medication may be needed.

The Mayo Clinic provides these suggestions for alleviating the symptoms of GERD:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Those who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop GERD.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking can affect the way the esophageal sphincter functions. Smoking is also the cause of several other serious health issues, and if you smoke, you should stop. 
  • Elevate the head of your bed. Raising the head of your bed by six to nine inches can make a difference. Remember that using several pillows to elevate your head is not typically effective.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Don’t lie down after you eat. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least three hours before you do so. You should also avoid eating heavy meals close to bedtime.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing.

It’s also always a good idea to avoid the drinks and food that typically cause GERD and acid reflux. These include:

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • Fried foods
  • Tomato sauce
  • Fatty foods
  • Mint
  • Garlic
  • Onion

If these methods are ineffective, we can work closely with you to see if medication is appropriate. Often, prescription medication can relieve the situation without the need for surgery.

Can GERD cause a sore throat?

Yes. Sore throats attributed to GERD are caused by the sting of stomach acid causing inflammation and soreness in the esophagus. There is also a type of reflux called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). In this condition, the stomach acid can damage the delicate tissues of your larynx, also called the voice box.

Like GERD, It’s caused by dysfunctional muscles in your esophagus. These muscles ---called the upper and lower esophageal sphincters—are supposed to keep food moving toward your stomach and prevent stomach acid from going back into your throat. When they weaken or have problems, the result can be GERD and / or LPR.

Can GERD cause asthma?

Researchers haven’t nailed down the details of the relationship between GERD and asthma. However, the Cleveland Clinic states that more than 75 percent of those with asthma also have GERD and the heartburn that accompanies it. 

In fact, drugs that treat asthma may make GERD worse. However, treating GERD will frequently alleviate asthma symptoms.

Can GERD cause cancer?

When the stomach acid consistently irritates the lining of the esophagus, over time, this can cause damage to the cells. This means if you have consistent GERD, you may be at greater risk for developing esophageal cancer. 

However, according to the American Cancer Society, most people who have GERD do not develop esophageal cancer. 

We recommend working closely with one of our ear, nose and throat doctors so we can accurately determine your risk for esophageal cancer, taking into account other factors such as your age and family history as well as your tobacco and alcohol use. 

Often, throat cancers such as esophageal cancer do not show any obvious symptoms until they are more advanced and therefore more difficult to treat. 

Therefore, if you are experiencing any of the following, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with us so we can evaluate your condition:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Chronic cough
  • Vomiting
  • Hoarseness
  • Bone pain
  • Bleeding into the esophagus

Why See an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor for a GERD Cough? 

A GERD cough can be challenging to diagnose. First,  you may have a GERD cough even if you aren’t experiencing heartburn or other telltale signs of GERD. 

Second, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a GERD cough and those that may be caused by other factors such as allergies or postnasal drip.

That’s where we come in---as experts, we’re able to examine your throat, evaluate your cough and prescribe a specific set of treatments that can help you. We’ll also evaluate your GERD and your risk factors for throat cancer.

If you’ve experienced the symptoms above, we encourage you to contact us for an appointment today and see why we are the ear, nose and throat doctors of choice for the Triangle area. 

 

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premier physician-owned ENT practice with seven convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.