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What is Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)?

By Dr. Kyle Quillin, DO, ENT/Otolaryngology at Southwest Health

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) is a condition that affects many patients ­‑ roughly 1 in 5 adults. Symptoms can sometimes include burning in the chest, pain, and nausea. The condition manifests itself when the body cannot keep acid down in the stomach. This reflux of acid may be due to a faulty valve (lower esophageal sphincter) that is meant to keep harmful stomach contents away from the esophagus.

Ever have that nagging feeling that something is stuck in your throat? While several different things could cause that sensation, reflux may be one of those.

Other symptoms of reflux include:

  • Voice changes
  • Chronic cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Throat clearing
  • Difficulty swallowing

These symptoms may not be commonly thought of as a result of reflux, but are due to laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). LPR is a condition in which acid that is made in the stomach travels up to the esophagus like GERD, but goes further and gets to the throat or voice box.

Ear, nose and throat physicians (Otolaryngologists) are in a unique position to diagnose and treat patients that are suffering from reflux. Up to 10% of patients that see an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician may have some component of this condition. Although the symptoms of GERD and LPR may differ, the underlying process is similar. That is why the treatment for both conditions is comparable.

Treatment for adults may include:

  • Restrict chocolate, mints, and fatty foods
  • Avoid carbonated beverages and alcohol
  • Spicy foods or tomato-based products
  • Red wine, and caffeinated drinks like coffee
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Avoiding large meals before bed
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by losing weight if needed and avoid smoking
  • Chewing gum to increase saliva and neutralize acid

These recommendations may sound like all fun food and drinks are off limits, but that is not the case. Consuming in moderation along with prescribed medication can help as well. Medication can assist in decreasing bed to help decrease the amount of acid your stomach produces.

However, adults are not the only ones affected by reflux. Infants and children may also suffer from this condition if their sphincters are undeveloped, they have a shorter esophagus, or they lie down much of the time.

Symptoms in infants and children suffering from reflux includes:

  • Stomachache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Voice changes or cough
  • Hoarseness

Other conditions in infants and children such as recurring ear infections, sore throats, and sinus or nasal congestion are commonly seen in an ENT office and may be attributable to reflux as well.

Treatment for infants and children may include:

  • Smaller and more frequent feedings
  • Keeping an infant in a vertical position for at least 30 minutes after feeding
  • Medications or further interventions if severe

Hopefully this perspective sheds some light on the importance of overall health as well as the wide range of symptoms one may experience that can be caused by reflux. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or have further questions or concerns, you can contact the Specialty Clinic at Southwest Health, and make an appointment with our new full-time ENT/Otolaryngologist Dr. Kyle Quillin.