GERD Cough Unveiled: Strategies for Relief and Prevention

Apr 04, 2024 | 2 min read

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According to the NIDDK, about 20% of the U.S. population is affected by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Among its symptoms is a persistent cough, often overlooked as a sign of acid reflux, yet it significantly impacts quality of life.

By understanding the link between acid reflux and chronic coughing, patients can seek appropriate treatment and find relief from this bothersome symptom.

What is GERD Chronic Cough?

GERD chronic cough is a cough that arises from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus.

This reflux can irritate and inflame the esophagus, leading to symptoms like heartburn.

When the acid reaches the throat and airways, it can cause a persistent cough, often worsening at night or after meals.

GERD-induced cough is considered chronic if it lasts for more than eight weeks.

Management typically involves lifestyle modifications and medications that reduce acid production, helping to alleviate the cough and prevent further esophageal damage.

What is a GERD Cough Like?

  • Persistent and Dry: The GERD cough is chronic and hacking, occurring without mucus production, making it particularly irritating.
  • Triggered by Body Position: It becomes more pronounced after eating, when bending over, or while lying down, especially at night. These positions can worsen acid reflux, triggering the cough.
  • Lacks Cold or Allergy Symptoms: Unlike coughs from colds or allergies, a GERD cough doesn't usually have symptoms like a runny nose or fever.
  • Associated with Acid Reflux Signs: It may come with other GERD symptoms, such as heartburn, regurgitation of food or sour liquid, and a sensation of a lump in the throat.
  • Worsens with Increased Abdominal Pressure: Situations that increase abdominal pressure, like heavy lifting or straining, can aggravate the cough.
  • Diagnosis: Identifying a GERD cough involves recognizing these symptoms and the patient's history with acid reflux.
  • Treatment: Focuses on managing the underlying GERD to alleviate the cough's frequency and severity.

What Does a GERD Cough Sound Like?

  • Dry and Hacking Nature: The sound of a GERD cough is typically dry and hacking. It lacks the wet or productive qualities that indicate the presence of mucus or phlegm.
  • Lack of Distinctive Sound: There is no unique sound that immediately identifies a cough as being caused by GERD based solely on its auditory characteristics.
  • Persistence Without Congestion: Its persistence, especially in the absence of other cold symptoms like congestion or a runny nose, can suggest GERD as a potential underlying cause.

How Long Does GERD Cough Last?

The duration of a GERD cough can range from several weeks to months, often lasting until the underlying condition of acid reflux is treated. With appropriate treatment, patients might start to see an improvement in their cough within 4 to 8 weeks.

However, complete resolution of the cough can take longer, depending on the severity of the GERD and the effectiveness of the treatment plan.

How to Stop GERD Cough Instantly?

To manage GERD cough, use these tips:

  1. Drink Warm Water or Herbal Tea: Consuming warm fluids can help soothe the throat, calm the esophagus, and reduce irritation that might be causing the cough. Herbal teas, in particular, can offer additional benefits due to their natural anti-inflammatory properties.
  2. Chew Gum or Suck on Lozenges: This stimulates saliva production, which can help neutralize and clear stomach acid from the esophagus more quickly, providing temporary relief from coughing.
  3. Use Antacids: Over-the-counter antacid tablets or liquid can offer rapid relief by neutralizing stomach acid. However, their effect is temporary, and they do not tackle the underlying cause of the cough. They should be used sparingly and not as a permanent solution.
  4. Identify and Avoid Trigger Foods: Knowing and avoiding foods that trigger GERD symptoms is key to long-term relief. This involves observing your diet and recognizing which foods worsen your symptoms.
  5. Adopt Lifestyle Changes: Eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding eating before bedtime can significantly reduce GERD symptoms. Such changes help prevent the stomach from becoming too full and reduce the likelihood of acid reflux, which can lead to coughing.
  6. Consider Medications That Reduce Stomach Acid Production: For a more long-term solution, medications like proton pump inhibitors can be effective. These reduce the production of stomach acid, thereby managing GERD symptoms and reducing the frequency and severity of coughing episodes related to GERD.
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