Erythromycin, a common antibiotic that is often used to help individuals who have an allergy to penicillin, may also be helpful in the treatment of acid reflux. My own son started on this drug several months ago for acid reflux treatment, and it has made a huge improvement in his quality of life. Prior to taking this medication, my son was waking up several mornings a week with nasal stuffiness, most likely due to overnight reflux. About a week after starting a low dose of Erythromycin, my son’s morning stuffiness disappeared and he began taking an afternoon nap at preschool for the first time in four years.
Erythromycin appears to improve acid reflux symptoms by mimicking a digestive hormone called motilin, which helps increase the body’s rate of gastric emptying. In other words, Erythromycin may help prevent reflux by acting as an agent in the body to help clear food out of the stomach more quickly.
Using Erythromycin for this purpose is a relatively new concept, and the empirical research to date seems somewhat mixed. A group of Japanese researchers (Hara and others, 2006) documented an almost miraculous recovery of a patient with severe heartburn, who had not been helped with other reflux medications. Others have provided evidence that the drug Erythromycin helps in emptying the stomach, but not in reducing acid reflux symptoms.
One advantage of a trial of Erythromycin for reflux treatment is this: Erythromycin seems to have minimal side effects as compared other motility drugs such as metoclopramide (also known as Reglan).
Of course, the first step in trying Erythromycin or any prescription medication for reflux treatment is to have a discussion with your doctor. An experienced general practitioner or gastroenterologist understands that successful reflux treatment is often found through trial and error. It now appears that Erythromycin may be one more trick of the trade.
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. Learn more about Tracy and what healthy living services and products she can offer on her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.