Did you know that those who suffer from asthma are at a higher risk of developing the chronic form of acid reflux that is commonly referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) at some point in their lives? In fact, studies show that as many as 80% of adults with asthma deal with GERD.
While it’s still unclear what the exact connection is between GERD and asthma, several theories exist as to why there may be a link between the two conditions.
Does GERD trigger asthma?
As stomach acid repeatedly travels into the esophagus, it can damage the lining of the throat and the airways to the lungs. This can result in both a nagging cough and difficulty breathing.
When the lungs are consistently exposed to acid, it can also cause them to be more sensitive to irritants like dust and pollen—well known asthma triggers.
Another reason the two conditions may be linked is that acid reflux has been known to trigger a protective nerve reflex. In order to keep stomach acid from entering the lungs, this reflex forces the airways to tighten.
In some cases, this tightening can result in shortness of breath, a common asthmatic symptom.
Does asthma trigger GERD?
We’ve seen how GERD can trigger asthma, but can asthma trigger GERD? The short answer is yes. When someone is having an asthma attack, there are pressure changes that happen inside the chest and abdomen. It is thought that these changes in pressure may exacerbate GERD.
The increased pressure on the stomach that occurs when the lungs swell can cause the muscles, which typically prevent acid reflux, to become lax, allowing stomach acid to move back up into the esophagus.
For those suffering from GERD, the most common symptom is heartburn; however, it is possible to experience GERD without heartburn. For some, symptoms may mirror asthma symptoms, including difficulty swallowing or a chronic dry cough.
Your asthma might be linked to GERD if:
- It didn’t start until adulthood
- You notice symptoms worsen after a large meal or exercise
- Symptoms happen when you’re drinking an alcoholic beverage
- Symptoms are more common at night or when you’re lying down
- Asthma medications don’t work as well as usual
When children are experiencing symptoms of GERD, it may be hard to properly identify them, especially for young children. When a baby is under one year of age, they can experience symptoms of acid reflux (such as regular spitting up or vomiting) without any issues.
If your infant is suffering from GERD, you may notice they:
- Are more irritable than normal
- Refuse to eat
- Do not grow at the rate they should (this can be both height and weight)
- Arch their backs regularly, typically during or right after they’ve eaten
For older toddlers, symptoms of GERD may look more like:
- Repeated regurgitation
- Shortness of breath, regular coughing and wheezing (symptoms of asthma)
What are the medical treatments for GERD linked to asthma?
Up until a few years ago, providers would recommend acid reflux be treated by medication called proton pump inhibitors, abbreviated as PPIs. The most popular of these medications are Nexium and Prilosec, and it was thought that these PPIs would also work to alleviate asthmatic symptoms.
However, that belief was questioned in a 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine which stated the medications didn’t make any different in the rate of severe asthma attacks versus those who were taking a placebo pill.
It is now recommended that you talk with your provider if you have asthma and are looking to relieve your symptoms.
Do not change or stop taking your current asthma medication before talking to your provider.
Ways to alleviate GERD symptoms
There are several things you can do to yourself to keep your GERD symptoms to a minimum. If you carry excess weight on your body, losing the weight should make a big difference in your symptoms. Stopping smoking has also been known to alleviate GERD symptoms.
You may also want to avoid foods or drinks that are known to cause acid reflux, including:
- Beverages that are caffeinated or alcoholic
- Citrus fruits
- Food that is fried
- Spicy foods
- Foods that are high in fat
- Pizza, salsa or other tomato-based foods
It’s also recommended that you eat smaller meals five to six times a day instead of having three large meals each day. If possible, you should also try to eat your last meal three to four hours before you go to bed.
If you have a child who suffers from acid reflux, there are a few things you can try to help relieve the symptoms. When you’re feeding your infant, burp them several times and keep them in an upright position for at least 30 minutes after they’re done eating.
As with adults, children should also have smaller meals more frequently and stay away from the list of acid reflux-triggering foods listed above.
Ways to alleviate asthma symptoms
Asthma is a much more serious condition than GERD, so it’s important that you take treatment seriously. Always follow the direction of your provider. However, you can also try a few simple things that may help your symptoms such as taking supplements. Ginkgo extra, fish oil supplements and natural herbs are all said to relieve asthma symptoms.
Yoga and deep breathing exercises may also help with asthma symptoms as it can help give you control over your breathing.
Before you add any herbs or supplements into your treatment plan, it’s a good idea to consult with your provider first.
If you suffer from GERD or asthma and need a proper diagnosis or to be set up on a treatment plan, consider visiting your local CareNow® clinic. Each of our 100 locations throughout the United States is fully staffed with qualified physicians ready to serve you.
Before your visit, don’t forget to take advantage of our Web Check-In® feature. It allows you to check-in before your appointment so you can stay away from the waiting room.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.