Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is also known as acid reflux or heartburn. Those who suffer from GERD may also deal with eosinophilic esophagitis, which results in esophageal inflammation.
What are GERD Symptoms?
It is characterized by a burning pain that migrates from the stomach to the chest or abdomen, regurgitating bitter or sour acid, bloating, nausea, and vomiting, among other symptoms. GERD occurs when stomach acid is able to move from the stomach to the esophagus. This happen when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to completely close or opens too often.
Hiatal Hernias and GERD
While acid reflux or heartburn is frequently caused by lying down after a meal or eating certain foods that relax the LES or trigger increased acid production, chronic heartburn can signal a more serious cause. Hiatal hernias occur when a portion of the stomach moves through a small hole in the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. This can weaken the LES and allow stomach acid to wash back up the esophagus.
These hernias can occur after sudden physical exertion, such as coughing or vomiting. The exertion pressurizes the stomach, pushing the upper part of the stomach through the diaphragm. Pregnancy and being overweight also can cause a hiatal hernia. Frequently, these hernias are harmless, and do not require treatment. If the injury is contributing to GERD, or is at risk of strangulation (loss of blood flow to the organ), doctors may perform a surgery to reduce the hernia or prevent strangulation.
GERD and Allergies
Food allergies can contribute to GERD. Certain foods may trigger increased acid production or other reactions that can lead to chronic heartburn. A simple blood test by your doctor or an allergist can diagnose these allergies. Dietary changes can help reduce instances of heartburn, and control the symptoms of GERD.
How GERD causes Asthma
GERD can also cause chest distress and asthma. The irritation from reflux can signal the lungs to increase mucus production and to restrict the small airways, causing asthma-like symptoms. It is also possible to aspirate acid that works its way up into the throat. Inhaling minute amounts of stomach acid can cause irritation, wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest, and other symptoms.
A new theory being explored by doctors is that asthma can trigger GERD as well, creating a vicious cycle. Inhaling medication for asthma or difficulty breathing may relax the LES, allowing for reflux to occur. Albuterol and prednisone can make it difficult for the LES to contract fully. Other bronchodilators, which can relax the esophagus, may also contribute to GERD symptoms. Anyone can develop GERD-related asthma, including infants, children and teens. These symptoms may be chronic, but often are only experienced occasionally.
Diagnosing GERD-Related Asthma
You may be required to monitor and record your symptoms over a period of time to diagnose your GERD-related asthma. Another procedure to diagnose this condition may include a 24-hour period of study with an acid sensor to determine the amount of reflux you are suffering.
How GERD is Treated
Treatments for GERD can also be used to help manage GERD-related asthma by reducing reflux. Asthma symptoms can improve after treatment for GERD, and patients may be able to regulate these conditions on their own.
Treatment of GERD happens a number of ways, such as:
- Medication. There are a number of available medications to reduce the effects of GERD. Your doctor can help you choose the best one for you. Many are over-the-counter, so you may try a few before you and your doctor find the one that works for you.
- Diet. Reducing the consumption of certain foods can lessen the symptoms of GERD. Avoid fatty and fried foods, spicy food, tomato-based foods, citrus, pepper, chocolate, mint, coffee, and alcoholic beverages while treating GERD.
- Changing eating habits. Smaller meals taken more frequently can help reduce reflux. Eat 5-6 small meals per day.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco use can irritate the lungs, increasing asthma symptoms. It can also cause the LES to relax.
- Start a weight loss program. Losing weight can reduce pressure on your stomach, and can ease reflux symptoms.
- Avoid lying down after meals. Allow your body time to digest your food and move it out of your stomach before lying down. Elevate your head, to reduce gravity’s effect on reflux.
- Eat early. To avoid going to bed on a full stomach, make sure there are 2-3 hours between your last meal and bedtime.
- Loosen your clothing. A tight waistband or belt can increase pressure on your stomach.
If you struggle with GERD-related asthma, our team of Georgia allergists may be able to help. We are experienced in diagnosing and treating asthma and food allergies that can cause GERD. Contact the Center for Allergy and Asthma of Georgia today to schedule an appointment.