Can Acid Reflux Cause a Sore Throat?

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Acid reflux due to improper closure of sphincter.
Acid reflux due to improper closure of sphincter. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

Acid reflux can cause a sore throat, particularly when you wake up in the morning or after you've been lying down for a while.

Overview

During acid reflux, food particles and stomach acid are pushed up from the stomach and into the esophagus sometimes reaching the throat and mouth. The low pH of stomach acid is irritating to the tissue in the esophagus and throat.

Causes

Acid reflux occurs for many reasons including failure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to close or a hiatal hernia.

Sometimes acid reflux is the result of chronic poor eating habits, but it often coincides with a genetic predisposition or a medical disorder. A sore throat caused by acid reflux is usually worse in the morning because laying down makes it easier for acid to make its way up the esophagus.

Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR)

Some people who have a sore throat from acid reflux may have a condition called laryngopharyngeal reflux. Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is the medical term for a chronic condition in which acid from the stomach regurgitates up the esophagus, past the lower esophageal sphincter, and in severe cases the back of the nasal airway. Symptoms of LPR are very similar and may overlap with those of GERD. Symptoms may include:

  • sore throat
  • a bitter taste in the mouth
  • a burning sensation in the back of the throat
  • feeling like there is a lump in your throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • voice hoarseness

Children or infants with LPR may have additional symptoms:

  • wheezing
  • stridor
  • coughing
  • spitting up
  • failure to grow or gain weight as they should
  • in severe cases LPR may cause life threatening breathing problems including apnea or turning blue (cyanosis)

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if your symptoms occur frequently or do not subside with over-the-counter antacids.

It is important to control acid reflux to avoid complications such as:

Other conditions that may be confused with GERD and may also cause a sore throat from acid reflux are:

Diagnosis

Acid reflux goes by many names including heartburnGERD and indigestion. Acid reflux can cause not only a sore throat but other ear, nose and throat disorders such as:

Acid reflux is usually suspected based on your symptoms, if typical treatments used for acid reflux are not effective in controlling your symptoms your doctor may order other tests including:

  • EGD
  • esophageal motility testing
  • barium esophagram

Treatments

Acid reflux is first treated by a group of medications called antacids, which are taken as needed. Many over-the-counter antacids are available. If you have more than occasional heartburn that responds to over-the-counter antacids, you should consult a doctor.

Also, drugs known as H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors can sometimes heal esophageal damage caused by reflux. Recently some of these medications have been made available over-the-counter, examples are:

Generally, if you are have a sore throat, you probably need stronger and longer treatments, so discuss this with your physician.

Prevention

You can prevent getting a sore throat from acid reflux by not eating a few hours before bedtime, eating a diet that is low in fatty and acidic foods, and not lying down flat (prop yourself up on some pillows to raise your upper body).

Additionally, certain substances or lifestyle choices can increase your risk for acid reflux including:

  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • drinking caffeine and carbonated beverages
  • taking certain medications including aspirin, and NSAIDS (ie. ibuprofen, naprosyn)

Source:

American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. GERD and LPR. http://www.entnet.org/content/gerd-and-lpr

American Family Physician. Head and Neck Manifestations of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. http://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0901/p873.html

University of Maryland Medical Center. Gastroesophageal reflux and heartburn. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-and-heartburn

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