Main Content
Living Healthy

Understanding How to Manage GERD and Asthma

October 18, 2019
Understand How to Manage GERD and Asthma
If you have asthma, there's a very good chance you also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In fact, it's estimated that more than 75% of asthma patients also have GERD. And people with asthma are twice as likely to have GERD as those who don't have asthma. The exact reason for this relationship between GERD and asthma aren't yet known, though researchers have some ideas. The good news is, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to reduce GERD symptoms, which can reduce your asthma symptoms, too.
 
Recognize the signs of GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux - often called "acid reflux" - is a common condition. It occurs when stomach acids move backward, up into the esophagus. You experience it when you burp, have an acid taste in your mouth or have heartburn. Additional symptoms can include:
  • Acid regurgitation, or re-tasting your food after eating
  • Difficulty or pain in swallowing
  • Gum inflammation
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Chest pain (seek immediate medical help if this occurs)
You should see your doctor if any of these symptoms start interfering with your daily life. GERD can lead to severe conditions if it's left untreated. These include lung damage, esophageal ulcers and, in some cases, a condition called Barrett's esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.
 
Several tests may be suggested by your doctor to confirm a GERD diagnosis:
  • X-ray of the upper digestive system
  • Endoscopy to examine the inside of the esophagus
  • Ambulatory acid (pH) test to monitor the amount of acid in the esophagus
  • Esophageal impedance test to measure the movement of substances in the esophagus
GERD and Asthma
GERD and asthma can have a back-and-forth relationship with each other. Acid flow can injure the lining of the throat, airways and lungs, which can make breathing difficult and cause a persistent cough. This could worsen asthma symptoms. Plus, treating GERD often helps relieve asthma symptoms.
 
On the other hand, asthma can also worsen GERD symptoms. Flare-ups can cause the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach to relax. This can allow stomach contents to flow back up into the esophagus.
So, a direct cause-and-effect connection between GERD and asthma is difficult to prove. But there are some situations when doctors see GERD as the cause of a patient's asthma:
  • When asthma begins in adulthood.
  • When asthma symptoms worsen after a meal or exercise, at night or after lying down.
  • When asthma doesn’t respond to standard treatments.
Lifestyle Changes for GERD
The good news is that lifestyle changes can help lessen — or even prevent — GERD symptoms, which could reduce asthma symptoms, too.
  • Adjust your bed. Raising the head of your bed by six inches will help gravity keep food and acid in your stomach. Don’t just pile up pillows — this will bend your body in a way that will make the problem worse.
  • Rethink your diet. Limit foods that relax the lower esophageal sphincter. These include fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee and tea, colas and alcohol. Also cut down on tomatoes— and citrus fruits and juices — these acidic foods can irritate the esophagus.
  • Revise your eating habits: . Eat smaller meals at least 3 hours before lying down and avoid bedtime snacks.
  • Change your wardrobe. Wear loose belts and clothing to reduce pressure on your stomach.
  • Consult with your doctor about your asthma medications. Some asthma medications, especially theophylline, can make GERD symptoms worse.