Acid Reflux Symptoms You May Not Know About

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Most people are aware of the standard heartburn symptoms of acid reflux, but there are a host of acid reflux symptoms that many people may not recognize.

Man dealing with sinus infection.
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Sinusitis

If you have frequent sinus infections and can’t figure out why, it might be time to talk with your doctor about acid reflux. This is because stomach contents may not only reflux into the throat, but also splash up into the sinus cavities. These acidic reflux materials can go on to cause chronic sinus issues.

Image of larynx which can be harshly affected by acid reflux.
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Voice and larynx changes

Often referred to as laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR, voice changes associated with acid reflux occur when acid travels the length of the esophagus and spills over into the larynx. This can cause a hoarse voice and eventually damage the vocal folds.

Woman sick in bed with runny nose and a fever.
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Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia occurs when liquids that are supposed to be in the stomach end up in the lungs. This most often happens in acid reflux patients who cannot clear their lungs on their own due to conditions such as stroke, for example. If you notice any signs of aspiration pneumonia, then get to the doctor quickly to have it addressed. Pneumonia can be deadly — especially in immunocompromised patients.

Acid reflux can cause bad breath.
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Bad breath and tooth damage

Bad breath can be an early sign of acid reflux issues. Think about it: Stomach contents, which are basically the equivalent to vomit, are splashing into the throat and mouth. That is definitely not going to cause a good mouth-smell.

Acid reflux can damage teeth by weakening enamel.
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Dental issues

In addition to causing bad breath, stomach acids can damage your tooth enamel. This is why your dentist may notice your acid reflux before you do. Be sure to see your dentist every six months. When you do have an acid reflux episode, try to rinse your mouth with water to remove as much acid as you can. Brushing your teeth immediately after an acid reflux episode may only complicate the problem because you are likely also brushing weakened enamel off your teeth.

Patient talking with doctor about having trouble swallowing.
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Swallowing issues

Acid reflux can frequently cause swallowing issues and esophagitis, which is swelling and inflammation in the esophagus. When left untreated, this inflammation can progress to narrowing of the esophagus, called esophageal strictures. Signs to look for include frequent choking spells or a feeling of being unable to swallow completely.

Acid reflux can make asthma worse.
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Increase in asthma issues

Many people don’t realize that their acid reflux can aggravate pre-existing asthma. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America explains there are several reasons for a link between asthma and acid reflux disease. Sometimes the stomach contents can affect lung irritation, and sometimes asthma medication can affect acid reflux symptoms. It is important to work with your doctor to get both conditions under control.

Acid reflux can cause chest pain similar to a heart attack.
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Non-cardiac chest pain

Acid reflux chest pain can be so severe that it has sent people to the ER thinking they were having a heart attack. I have also heard the opposite from physicians: cases where patients wrote off their chest pain as acid reflux and were later found dead with a stomach full of antacids. Always have any chest pain assessed by your doctor. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to chest pain, heart attack, and acid reflux.

Acid reflux can be a factor in fatigue.
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Extreme fatigue

You may not think of acid reflux as a cause for your extreme fatigue, but it can definitely play a role. Acid reflux can disrupt your sleep. Bleeding from ulcerations or gastritis can potentially cause or exacerbate conditions like iron-deficiency anemia. If you are extremely tired and don’t know why, check in with your physician. They may want to run some additional testing to determine and treat the cause of your fatigue.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.