How to Know If You Have Both Asthma and Acid Reflux

If you have asthma, you may be more likely to have acid reflux as well. You may have both asthma and reflux if you answer yes to any of the following questions:

  • Do you have symptoms of regurgitation? Many patients will describe the sensation of acid and food backing up into the esophagus as a "wet burp." Some people also have a sensation that their food is always coming back up with a sense of nausea.
  • Do you have frequent heartburn or pyrosis? This is the painful burning in your stomach and mid-chest caused by acid from your stomach going up into and irritating your esophagus. This is not only painful but can also lead to worsening asthma control.
  • Do you experience a sour or bitter taste in your mouth? Depending on the severity, the reflux may cause a sour or bitter taste, or you may get a sudden sensation of a salty fluid in your mouth called water brash. Water brash results from the stomach acid stimulating the salivary glands to produce saliva.
  • Have you experienced coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath at night in the past month? Unexplained nighttime asthma symptoms may indicate that you have reflux as well. Because you are sleeping you may not be aware that your reflux is severe enough that you are actually aspirating food particles into your lungs and this may be what is causing your restlessness and asthma symptoms.

Reflux can be one of the triggers in the pathophysiology of asthma that leads to more asthma symptoms or even trigger an asthma attack.

Young woman using inhaler
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Signs and Symptoms

If your asthma is poorly controlled and you are experiencing any of the following symptoms of both reflux and asthma, you may want to consider talking with your doctor.

Your doctor may also suspect reflux and asthma are occurring together if:

  • Your asthma symptoms continue to occur despite taking your asthma medication appropriately, or you have had a poor response to your treatments.
  • You experience asthma symptoms after eating foods that make reflux worse, such as a high-fat meal, alcohol, chocolate, or caffeine.
  • You are taking medications known to increase acid reflux, such as calcium channel blockers (e.g. nifedipine for hypertension), prescription pain medications (e.g. Lortab), or osteoporosis treatments (e.g. Fosamax).
  • Your asthma symptoms began as an adult.

What You Can Do If You Have Asthma and Reflux

There are a number of things you can do if you have both asthma and reflux. While you can go to your doctor for a prescription or the pharmacy for over the counter meds, you can also try these techniques without a trip to the doctor:

  • Lose weight. Losing just a few pounds will likely improve your reflux symptoms.
  • Eating habits. This can be impacted both by what and how you eat. In terms of the what you will want to avoid any foods that make food more likely to go from your stomach back into your esophagus. This would include chocolates, anything with caffeine, and alcohol. You do not have to totally avoid them but you will want to take in moderation and avoid them for a couple of hours before bedtime. Additionally, eating smaller meals, not laying down for at least 3 minutes after eating, and raising the head of the bed are examples of the 'how' that might decrease reflux symptoms.
  • Clothes. Avoid tight-fitting clothes that increase pressure in the abdomen and make reflux more likely.
  • Quit smoking. Quitting smoking is not only one of the single best things you can do for your asthma and overall health, but it will also decrease reflux.
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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma