Recently there have been a lot of questions posted about the "less common" symptoms of reflux such as chronic cough. It seems as though when people think of reflux they think of the symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, gas and chest pain. But, there are a lot of other symptoms that we don’t think of as reflux and chronic cough is one of them.
Why does reflux cause a chronic cough? The research has shown that when the acid comes up in the throat the esophagus can become inflamed. For some, that inflammation is going to show as pain/heartburn but for others, the body is going to respond to the irritation with a cough. The body doesn’t know what is causing the irritation and it goes about trying to rid itself of this irritation.
Another possibility is that in addition to the irritation in the esophagus, throat and nasal passages, the sinuses can also become inflamed. When this happens, the sinuses may react by producing mucous. The mucous can then cause a post-nasal drip which then irritates the throat further causing a chronic cough.
How severe can this coughing get? For some, it may be a throat clearing that they aren’t even aware of. For others it may get severe enough that it can cause dizziness or even fainting.
I’ve known about chronic cough as a symptom of reflux since I started my crash course on reflux when my first child was born. But, it didn’t seem like an issue we were dealing with. My daughter did however have a chronic stuffy/runny nose when her reflux was flaring. At four years old we got her off her reflux meds with exception of the anti-acid she takes before bed for calcium. We knew she still had mild symptoms but we were glad to have her off meds for the time being.
At 9, my daughter got a chronic cough. We took her in to see her pediatrician who did a nebulizer in the office. It didn’t change the way her lungs sounded but her pediatrician was thinking cough variant asthma. She prescribed an inhaled steroid. It seemed to work. A few months later though the cough was back and the steroid didn’t make a difference. We had her tested for allergies and put her allergy meds. They didn’t work. Remembering that reflux could cause chronic coughing, I put her back on her Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) that she had taken at 4. Cough was gone. We took her off the steroid and allergy med. Cough remained gone. We stopped the PPI. Cough came back. Back on PPI; cough gone. When we went back to her pediatrician and I owned up to what I did, she admitted that it made sense but at the same time even she hadn’t thought of reflux because my daughter wasn’t complaining of any of the other reflux symptoms.
Since this time, I started on PPIs for my reflux that slowly but surely got worse over a few years. And, you know what? My chronic throat clearing is gone. I hadn’t even realized this was an issue (but my sister liked to complain about it). And, the year before I started on meds, when my reflux was becoming more and more of an issue, I had three bouts of laryngitis. Since starting on meds about a year and half ago, I haven’t had laryngitis once.
So, if you are a chronic throat clearer or if you have a chronic cough that isn’t explained by smoking or asthma, think about reflux. Maybe the acid is causing more symptoms than you realize.