You've probably heard of acid reflux and its classic symptom, heartburn. But did you know that acid reflux can cause problems not just in your stomach, but in your throat, too?
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid goes the wrong way — that is, backward up into the esophagus and throat. There are six things you should be aware of when it comes to this malady.
1. Acid reflux doesn't play favorites.
Sixty million Americans have acid reflux. What was once thought of as a disease of overweight, middle-aged, white men now cuts across all body types, generations, races and genders.
2. It’s not just heartburn.
There are two types of acid reflux disease: “Heartburn Reflux” where the main complaint is heartburn or that burning, searing sensation in your chest and “Throatburn Reflux” where the main complaints are “ccchuching” symptoms (that guttural throat sound most people know, but try spelling it), such as chronic cough, frequent throat clearing, hoarseness, sore throat, and/or a lump-like sensation in your throat. With Throatburn Reflux, you have acid reflux without having that heartburn feeling.
3. Heartburn actually IS a big deal.
Untreated, or insufficiently treated, acid reflux disease can lead to severe inflammation in the esophagus, stomach, lungs, vocal cords and throat which can cause ulcers, pneumonia, vocal cord polyps and breathing problems.
In some cases, untreated acid reflux can even progress to esophageal cancer, which is the fastest-growing cancer in America.
4. Certain foods lead to acid reflux.
There are 12 commonly consumed “foods” that cause acid reflux, either indirectly by having effects on the stomach, or directly because they are so darn acidic.
The half dozen that aren't very acidic but allow acid to fly up from the stomach are:
The half dozen that are actually very acidic, and can directly inflame the throat and everything around it are
- Sugary soda
- Bottled ice tea
- White wine
5. Creativity in the kitchen can neutralize acidic food.
Healthy, acidic foods such as berries can have their acidity neutralized by buffering them with more alkaline (less acidic) foods. For example, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries can become safe for people with acid reflux by adding unsweetened almond milk to the berries in a smoothie. Almost every smoothie and juice store in the country offers an almond milk-based smoothie.
6. You don't need a painful procedure to get a diagnosis.
There is a new method to diagnose acid reflux doesn’t require any type of sedation, thereby avoiding potential complications. The alternative is called TransNasal Esophagoscopy (TNE), where an ultrathin camera, the size and softness of cooked spaghetti, is used to examine the esophagus with the patient wide awake, in a doctor’s office. As no sedation is necessary, TNE is safer, and far less expensive, than the traditional exam of the esophagus.
So the next time you're discussing sedation during endoscopy with your doctor, ask the following three-word question: Are there alternatives?
Jonathan E. Aviv, M.D., FACS is the Clinical Director of the Voice and Swallowing Center for ENT and Allergy Associates in New York, and Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is also the author of The Acid Watcher Diet: A 28-Day Reflux Prevention and Healing Program.
He is a graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, completed both an internship in General Surgery and his residency in Otolaryngology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and went on to add a Fellowship at Mount Sinai in Microvascular Head and Neck Reconstruction.