Acid reflux. We all know about it, and most of us have probably experienced it at some point or another. It’s incredibly common in the US, with 60% of the adult population experiencing some form of reflux within a 12 month period and 20-30% experiencing weekly symptoms.
Acid reflux is most commonly associated with a condition called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (otherwise known as GERD), a gastrointestinal condition caused by a weakened lower esophageal sphincter. This weakness in the sphincter allows the contents of a patient’s stomach to splash back up into their esophagus, often resulting in chronic reflux and a variety of other symptoms.
What most people don’t understand, though, is that acid reflux isn’t the only type of reflux out there. Laryngopharyngeal reflux (otherwise known as silent reflux) is a condition similar to GERD. It’s caused when the esophageal sphincter works incorrectly, allowing stomach acid up into a patient’s throat or voice box, and sometimes even into their nasal airways. This can cause inflammation in areas that aren’t normally protected against gastric acid exposure.
In many cases GERD and LPR occur together in patients, but it’s also possible for each condition to present on its own. There have been several cases where patients have GERD but no LPR, and many where patients have LPR but no GERD. The causes are similar; the real difference lies in the symptoms.
When you hear “reflux related symptoms”, your mind often goes towards symptoms caused by acid reflux, such as heartburn, regurgitation, dyspepsia, nausea, etc. Similar to its cousin, silent reflux is responsible for a number of symptoms, but many of them are ones you wouldn’t normally think to associate with reflux. Some of the most common symptoms caused by silent reflux are the following:
· Excessive throat clearing
· A persistent cough
· Trouble breathing
· Difficulty swallowing (otherwise known as dysphagia)
· Chronic sore throat
· A “lump in the throat” feeling that doesn’t go away with repeated swallowing
· A sensation of postnasal drip or excess throat mucus
In many silent reflux cases, patients don’t even realize that their symptoms are caused by reflux. Many actually confuse the source of their symptoms as a recurring cold that they just can’t completely kick. Symptoms of acid reflux tend to be a bit more obvious, and are often easily identifiable. Patients who experience chronic acid reflux symptoms are more likely to get tested for GERD, whereas in many cases patients with silent reflux go undiagnosed.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s important that you see a reflux specialist immediately. LPR doesn’t pose a huge immediate danger to patients, but when left untreated can cause long-term damage.