Link Between GERD and Asthma: Symptoms and Treatment

Acid reflux happens when acid flows back up into the oesophagus from the stomach. An occasional episode of acid reflux is not a cause of concern.

Acid reflux occurs sometimes, along with shortness of breath. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can have an increased chance of developing asthma or other breathing problems. This article describes the link between GERD and asthma.

GERD and Asthma

Acid reflux happens when acid creeps back up into the oesophagus from the stomach. As this occurs, the acid can irritate airways, causing them to swell. This can cause trouble breathing. Research in 2019 showed a bidirectional relationship between Asthma and GERD. This means that people with GERD will be more likely to get asthma, and people with asthma will experience GERD more often than others (1).

A study in 2015 reports that up to 89 percent of people with asthma still experience symptoms of GERD. The explanation for this may be because of how acid interacts with the airways. Acid in the oesophagus sends an alarm signal to the brain, causing contraction by the airways. This causes symptoms of asthma (2).

In GERD-related asthma cases, treating GERD symptoms can aid in alleviating asthma symptoms. Asthma can also cause GERD. The airways tighten during an asthma attack which causes pressure in the oesophagus. This higher pressure may cause acid to leak into the oesophagus (3).

Whether a person’s symptoms are the product of asthma or GERD may often be hard to say. For example, a 2015 case study states that symptoms characteristic of GERD, such as burping and shortness of breath, may often be signs of asthma (4).

GERD Symptoms

Symptoms may be more asthmatic, such as chronic dry cough or trouble swallowing. An individual with acid reflux or GERD is likely to experience additional symptoms:

  • heartburn
  • regurgitation
  • difficulty swallowing
  • indigestion
  • stomach discomfort
  • chest pain
  • wheezing
  • sore throat
  • chronic cough
  • persistent hiccups
  • bloating
  • burping
  • bad breath

People with GERD-related asthma symptoms can also find that they have difficulty breathing at certain times. This also happens during sleeping or after eating an enormous meal.

Symptoms in kids and young children with GERD:

  • irritation
  • refuse to eat
  • nausea
  • heartburn
  • regurgitation
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing

It’s difficult to identify symptoms of GERD in children, especially if they ‘re very young. Children under 1 will also experience acid reflux symptoms, such as excessive coughing or vomiting, with no adverse consequences.

Medical Treatments

Usually, lifestyle and dietary changes are the first line treatment for symptoms of GERD. A doctor may prescribe drugs to manage GERD symptoms if these treatment options are unsuccessful.

However, a study questioned the efficacy of drugs in the treatment of severe asthma attacks. During the study, there was no difference in the rate of severe attacks between people taking medication and those taking a placebo (5).

Researchers reported before the study that between 15 and 65% of people with asthma took proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to treat GERD symptoms and prevent extreme asthma attacks. However, because of the alleged ineffectiveness of these medicines, those with asthma may want to consider treating their condition with other medications.

Make sure you talk to your doctor before adjusting or leaving your asthma medications. Some medicines commonly used to treat asthma, such as theophylline and beta-adrenergic bronchodilators, may exacerbate acid reflux.

Managing Symptoms

To help manage GERD symptoms or prevent them, avoid foods or drinks that contribute to acid reflux includes:

  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits
  • fried foods
  • spicy foods
  • high-fat foods
  • garlic
  • onions
  • mints
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • tomato-based foods

Other methods and remedies you should try:

  • lose excess weight
  • quite smoking
  • eat smaller meals
  • raise the head of your bed
  • Eat meals three hours prior to bed
  • Wear loose clothes

Usually, surgery is the last option in treating GERD when these methods and therapies don’t work.

Managing Acid Reflux in Children

Such basic techniques for reducing acid reflux in kids include:

  • Feeding babies with smaller and regular meals
  • Keeping babies upright for 30 minutes after feeding
  • Not feeding infants with foods that can cause acid reflux

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Since certain medicines may be ineffective in the simultaneous treatment of GERD and asthma, lifestyle and home remedies may be the best treatment for such conditions.

Managing Asthma Symptoms

To manage asthma symptoms, you might try the following herbs and methods:

  • ginkgo extract
  • butterbur
  • dried ivy
  • fish oil
  • yoga
  • deep breathing

When to See a Doctor?

Anyone with severe acid reflux or signs of GERD should see a doctor for a complete diagnosis. A doctor can perform diagnostic tests to determine the cause of GERD and any potential complications. A physician may also recommend medicine to help with GERD symptoms.

Related: learn about the treatment of GERD during pregnancy.

The Bottom Line

People experiencing GERD symptoms can benefit from some changes in lifestyle and diet. Some people will need to get medicine. Early treatment may help avoid GERD complications. Before trying any medicines, vitamins, or alternative therapies, be sure to check with your doctor. Your doctor can prescribe an effective treatment plan which can help reduce your symptoms of asthma and GERD.

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