If you have asthma, chances are good that you also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Doctors know there is a connection between GERD and asthma. For some people, GERD makes asthma symptoms worse while other people find that asthma makes their acid reflux worse. In some cases, treating one condition can also help ease symptoms of the other condition.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is also known as acid reflux, is a condition that allows the acidic liquid in the stomach to flow the wrong way up the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the stomach to the mouth. Because the liquid from the stomach is full of strong acid, it can cause inflammation in the lining of the esophagus which we know as heartburn. GERD can also cause nausea and regurgitation (the return of stomach contents to the mouth).
GERD is a chronic condition, which means once you have it, you will probably have it for the rest of your life. Approximately 75 percent of all people who have asthma also have acid reflux. In children, about half who have asthma also have GERD. (Mayo Clinic)
Having both asthma and acid reflux may mean your asthma medications don’t work as well as they should to control symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath. Possible reasons for this include:
• Inhaled acid – If acid from the stomach enters the esophagus, it may trigger nerves to close down the airways to keep more acid out, which makes breathing difficult.
• Coughing – Acid from the stomach can irritate the throat and airways, making you cough more.
• Acid damage – If the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid, it may feel like it is harder to breath.
If you have both asthma and GERD, it is important to take all your asthma medications as prescribed. Treating acid reflux may also help improve asthma-type symptoms including coughing and shortness of breath. Treatments for GERD include:
• Medications – There are many over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat acid reflux.
• Avoid triggers – Certain foods including fatty foods may trigger more acid in the stomach. Alcohol and tobacco can also make symptoms worse.
• Raise the bed – If you sleep on a flat bed, it is easier for the acid from the stomach to travel up the esophagus. Try raising the head of the bed or using a wedge-shaped pillow to lift your head and shoulders so you are sleeping on a slight incline. For naps, try sleeping in a chair instead of lying down.
• Sleep on the left – Sleeping on your left side can help get rid of stomach acid. Sleeping on your right side may make symptoms worse.
• Empty stomach – Stop eating at least two hours before bedtime.
If you have GERD and asthma, talk to your health care provider about how the two conditions may be interacting and to find out the best treatment plan for your health.
About.com: Heartburn. GERD and Asthma. Sharon Gillson. Web. September 7, 2011.
Mayo Clinic. Is there a connection between asthma and acid reflux? James T C Li, MD, PhD. Web. September 7, 2011.
MedicineNet.com. Heartburn and Asthma. Web. September 7, 2011.
American Acedemy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Web. September 7, 2011.
MedicineNet.com. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Web. September 7, 2011.
Cleveland Clinic: Diseases and Conditions. GERD and Asthma. Web. September 7, 2011.
Reviewed September 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith