Symptoms of GERD and Persistent Cough

It's natural to assume a chronic cough is a respiratory problem. Sometimes, though, coughs can have other causes.

Studies show that a long-term cough can also be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

When you have GERD, acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus. Your esophagus is sometimes also called your food pipe.

When stomach acid backs up in this way it is called acid reflux. If the acid is breathed in, it can make you cough. Irritation from the acid reflux in the throat can also cause coughing.

This article looks at GERD symptoms, including chronic cough. It also looks at some potential treatments for GERD.

Young man coughing, indoors
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GERD Symptoms

A persistent cough can have many possible causes. It's important to have this symptom evaluated by a healthcare provider.

If your cough is related to GERD, you will likely have other symptoms, too. These can include:

  • Chest pain or heartburn
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bad breath

Heartburn

This pain usually starts behind the breastbone, also called the sternum. It may travel up to the throat. It usually occurs shortly after eating. It can last from a few minutes to several hours.

Sometimes the pain of a heart attack can be confused with the burning pain of GERD. Seek medical attention if you have any doubt about what's causing your chest pain.

Consult your doctor if you have heartburn two or more times a week.

Hoarseness

When stomach acid enters your throat, it can cause irritation. This can lead to hoarseness. In GERD, it may be especially noticeable in the morning.

Difficulty Swallowing

Trouble swallowing is called dysphagia. This happens when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach.

There may be a sensation of food sticking in the throat. There could also be a feeling of choking.

Difficulty swallowing can happen in GERD. It could also be a sign of other conditions, including:

This symptom should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Bad Breath

GERD may cause acrid-smelling bad breath. This can happen when stomach acid comes up into the throat and mouth.

Recap

A chronic cough could have a number of possible causes. If it's related to GERD, you will probably have other symptoms like heartburn, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and bad breath.

How GERD is Treated

There are a few ways to reduce your acid reflux symptoms. In most cases, you can prevent acid reflux before it starts.

When you have fewer acid reflux episodes, there is less chance of damage to your esophagus.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications. Over-the-counter remedies can also help.

There are also alternative homeopathic remedies for easing heartburn. Discuss these with your doctor if you're thinking of trying them.

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Avoid These Things If You Have GERD

Lifestyle changes can help improve GERD:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • Limit your intake of acid-stimulating foods and beverages like spicy food, citrus, and coffee
  • Don't lay down for about two hours after you eat
  • Elevate your head a few inches while you sleep
  • Maintain a reasonable weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Don't wear belts or clothes that are tight-fitting around the waist
  • Take any prescribed medications for your acid reflux symptoms

Recap

Lifestyle changes can help improve your symptoms or prevent reflux from happening at all. Start by watching what and how much you eat.

Summary

A chronic cough could be a sign of GERD. If you have GERD, you're also likely to have other symptoms like heartburn, hoarseness, trouble swallowing, and bad breath.

You can prevent acid reflux with prescribed or over-the-counter medications. 

Lifestyle changes can also help. Eat smaller meals and avoid food and drink that triggers acid reflux. Don't lay down just after eating and try to sleep with your head elevated a few inches. It also helps to maintain a healthy weight.

GERD Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man
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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kahrilas PJ, Smith JA, Dicpinigaitis PV. A causal relationship between cough and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has been established: a pro/con debate. Lung. 2014;192(1):39-46. doi:10.1007/s00408-013-9528-7

  2. Clarrett DM, Hachem C. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Mo Med. 2018;115(3):214-218.

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