Is it a Cold or Acid Reflux?

It’s cold and flu season, but unfortunately acid reflux season is year ‘round. Did you know that the symptoms you might think are a cold could be acid reflux? Many in the medical profession believe acid reflux is one of the most misdiagnosed maladies in the country. That’s because acid reflux symptoms can perfectly mimic those of allergies or the common cold. The following will help give you answers to the question, “Is it a cold or acid reflux?”

Acid Reflux…it’s not just Heartburn

Only approximately 20% of acid reflux sufferers get heartburn, the symptom most associated with the condition. Eighty percent (80%) experience respiratory symptoms, such as sinus issues, chronic cough, post-nasal drip and thick mucus in the throat. With those statistics, it’s no wonder its misdiagnosis is so prevalent.

Two Types of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when your weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES) allows stomach acid to move backwards from the stomach into the esophagus. Whether or not your acid reflux produces heartburn or common cold symptoms depends on the type of acid reflux you have. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is the type of acid reflux that produces heartburn. It’s lesser known cousin, LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux), is also referred to as atypical or silent reflux. It’s the one whose symptoms more closely resemble those of the common cold or allergies.

GERD produces heartburn symptoms because stomach acid flows upward into your esophagus, irritated its lining. LPR causes stomach acid to creep back up, as well, but it doesn’t stay there long enough to produce heartburn. But it comes up in the throat, irritating it and the voice box. And the throat and voice box are far more sensitive to irritation. Mucus develops and creates cold-like symptoms, such as chronic coughing, post-nasal drip, sinus problems and a sore throat.

LPR can scar the voice box and exacerbate asthma and sleep apnea. And both GERD and LPR can increase the chances of esophageal cancer, which is one of the fastest growing ─and one of the most deadly─ forms of cancer in the United States.

How to tell if you Have LPR or a cold?

Determining whether you have LPR or a cold is not easy; as mentioned, doctors have difficulty providing an accurate diagnosis due to their similar symptoms. While both LPR and a cold can have thick mucus in the throat, frequent throat clearing, sinus problems and post-nasal drip, the common cold also produces:

  • a runny nose,
  • itchy eyes and
  • thinner, flowing mucus.

How to Prevent Acid Reflux

While preventing the common cold can seem next to impossible, there are several ways to prevent or reduce the severity of acid reflux symptoms. They include:

  • Losing weight,
  • Eating smaller meals and abstaining from eating at least two hours prior to bedtime,
  • Reducing your alcohol intake,
  • Refraining from using any tobacco products, and
  • Sleeping with you head and upper body at an increased angle.

Acid controlling medications don’t treat the cause of acid reflux, they just reduce stomach acid. The only way to stop acid reflux completely is to correct the weakness in the LES with reflux surgery. If you’re interested in learning more about how surgery can solve your acid reflux, contact Dr. Malladi today. She’s a board-certified, minimally-invasive bariatric and general surgeon. She’s been included in D Magazine’s Best Doctors edition in each of the last five (5) years.