Managing GERD Symptoms
Acid reflux is often regarded as a disorder of the digestive tract. However, severe forms of reflux, known as GERD, are often treated by ears, nose, and throat doctors. In fact, GERD common afflicts structures within the throat more severely than it does structures in the digestive tract.
What is GERD?
GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and is a severe form of acid reflux. It is a head and neck disorder that primarily targets the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. The LES is a ring of muscle that sits between the esophagus and stomach.
GERD can affect people of all ages, but particularly adults like pregnant women and men with poor dietary habits. In some instances, it can be inherited. However, it primarily is linked to poor lifestyle choices and diet. In rare instances, it may be caused by a condition known as a hiatal hernia.
What are the Symptoms of GERD?
GERD symptoms most often present themselves in the digestive tract. People with the illness may suffer from:
- Burning sensations behind the breastbone
- Bad breath
- Breathing difficulties
- Pain when swallowing
If left untreated, GERD can lead to a condition called esophagitis, which itself can lead to bleeding and ulcers in the throat. It likewise can cause difficulties when trying to eat or swallow.
Other complications of GERD include:
- Esophageal stricture, or the narrowing of the esophagus
- Barrett’s esophagus, or the changing of the lining of the esophageal cells, which can result in cancer
- Respiratory issues like chest congestion, asthma, hoarseness, or laryngitis after inhaling stomach acid
Treatment for GERD
Your doctor may first recommend you try to change your lifestyle habits and diet.
If those changes fail to curb the symptoms, you may then be prescribed medications like prokinetics, which strengthen the LES and cause the stomach to empty faster, or proton pump inhibitors, which neutralize acids in foods. Another category of medications that you may be prescribed is H2- receptor antagonists that strengthen the LES and reduce the inflammation and irritation in the esophagus.