Dr. Dean

Did My Hiatal Hernia Cause My Chronic Cough?

Posting Date: 08/30/2001

Originally broadcast on August 1, 2001.

Mark: For two months, I?ve had a pretty bad chronic cough. Last week I was diagnosed as having some sort of hiatal hernia. The doctor thinks this could explain my cough.

Dr. Dean: That?s the kind of explanation I like to hear, because it?s logical and clear, because a chronic cough can be very annoying and difficult diagnostically. There are a lot of weird things that can cause it.

We are now learning that chronic throat complaints can be a sign of a problem. Two days ago a medical journal article was published on just this problem. It was about nasal stuffiness. People that have nasal stuffiness at night are more likely to snore and have sleep apnea, but that nasal stuffiness can be due to gastro-esophageal reflux disease, GERD. This is similar to what you have. You have a hernia that's allowing acid to get up into your esophagus and even further, to get to your vocal cords.

You can inhale this stuff into your lungs and that can cause inflammation and irritation. While there are surgeries, and some of them are very nifty -- with things like endoscopes and little special, little keyhole surgery type deals -- the thing your doctor will do is give you a drug to stop acid secretion. And if the irritation stops, you?re probably nailed the cause and you can go after trying to treat this long term.

Mark: Let?s assume the acid reflux is being taken care of through these medicines, how long will I have the irritation? How long will it take my lungs to heal?

Dr. Dean: Quickly, if that?s the cause, it will heal quickly. It?s like getting a scrape or a burn and you know how quickly those heal. But I need to warn you against a chronic condition people get. They get a little irritation ?- I can hear it in your voice, on your vocal cords, and you?re clearing your throat because there are a lot of secretions due to the irritation. Clearing your throat repeatedly is irritating. If you do it long enough, before you know it, the original insult is gone and you?re left with continual irritation

So let?s go after the acid thing. It should clear up fast, I?m hopeful. Otherwise, you?ve got to go back and figure out what?s happening with your throat and your lungs.