GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

photo of woman experiencing reflux

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD, can trigger or worsen respiratory symptoms in people with asthma and COPD. Once GERD is controlled, many patients find their respiratory symptoms improve, leading to a reduction in medication and easier breathing.

GERD is a common medical condition in which acid from the stomach flows up to the esophagus (food pipe) and trachea (windpipe), causing irritation and inflammation. It affects people of all ages – from infants to seniors.

What are symptoms of GERD?

It’s often felt as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen and chest if the acid rises high enough. Other symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Laryngitis
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing

How does GERD affect asthma?

Nerves in the lower esophagus are connected to nerves in the lungs, so it is common for acid reflux to trigger asthma symptoms. Also, small acidic particles from the stomach can get into the airways and cause symptoms, particularly chest tightness.

Overuse of quick-relief inhalers such as albuterol can trigger GERD. The albuterol can loosen the muscle that keeps stomach acid from getting up into the esophagus.

How is GERD diagnosed?

Patients are encouraged to control reflux as much as possible. It is important to see a doctor to make sure GERD is the correct diagnosis, as other conditions can mimic it. GERD is usually diagnosed via an upper endoscopy test performed by a gastroenterologist.

How can GERD be managed?

Take medications as prescribed

In many cases, an over-the-counter antacid can help control symptoms. Stronger medications called proton pump inhibitors also can reduce acid.

Change your diet

Reduce fat intake and cut back on acidic and spicy foods. It helps to avoid eating meals 2-3 hours before bedtime – especially large meals.

Adjust sleep position

Sleeping on several pillows with the upper body propped up to let gravity keep the fluid down may help.

Minimize alcohol and caffeine consumption

Both are common GERD triggers.Stop smoking or avoid secondhand smoke: Cigarette smoke is also a common asthma trigger.

Control weight

Being overweight can make reflux worse. Weight loss for those who are overweight is recommended.

Talk with your doctor if certain asthma and COPD medications you’re prescribed have side effects that worsen GERD.

If symptoms persist, then more extensive evaluation and treatment – and possibly a surgical repair to the lower esophagus – may be needed.

What are foods to avoid with GERD?

  • Fatty and fried foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Tomato
  • Citrus
  • Mint flavoring
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
Ask the Allergist: How GERD Affects Asthma