After a night of culinary delight with fried and greasy food or a spicy entrée, you may experience some uncomfortable and painful symptoms of indigestion, including acid reflux. Over the next few days, you may notice some irritating symptoms such as a sore throat and cough remain. If so, you may have laryngopharyngeal reflux.
What is Laryngopharyngeal Reflux?
Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is a condition where gastric acid, or stomach acid, travels up the esophagus and into the throat. If left untreated, this condition can damage the throat, voice box, esophagus, and lungs.
Laryngopharyngeal reflux is also known as silent reflux since it does not always cause heartburn like other acid reflux conditions. Anyone can develop laryngopharyngeal reflux including children; however, it is more commonly seen in adults due to certain dietary and lifestyle habits.
What Causes Laryngopharyngeal Reflux?
When we eat, the food travels from the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. Then, the stomach begins to break down food by producing gastric acid. A muscle known as an esophageal sphincter controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach and works to keep the contents of your stomach from going back up your esophagus.
If the muscle fails to close properly while digesting, it can allow acid to return up the esophagus, into the throat, and in some cases the nasal passageways. The harsh acid can irritate, inflame, and damage soft tissues that are vulnerable to gastric acid.
The most common symptoms experienced in patients with laryngopharyngeal reflux include:
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Blockage of the airway leading to noisy breathing such as wheezing or apnea
- Changes in voice
- Chronic cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive throat clearing
- Post-nasal drip
- Red, swollen, or irritated voice box (larynx)
- The sensation of a lump in the throat
- Sore throat
Though not common in patients diagnosed with laryngopharyngeal reflux, heartburn may occur.
If left untreated, complications may occur such as ulcers on the vocal folds, worsening of respiratory conditions, scarring of throat tissue and voice box, irritation along the throat and esophagus, and lung damage such as pulmonary fibrosis.
How is Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Diagnosed?
Gastric reflux conditions can often be diagnosed by a patient’s symptoms and an examination of the throat. However, Laryngopharyngeal reflux can be difficult to determine and is often diagnosed using one of the following tests:
- Laryngoscopy, where an endoscope is used to display any damage or irritation along your throat, esophagus, and stomach.
- Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays can be used after the patient swallows a special liquid known as barium which can show the movement of food as it passes through the body.
- An esophageal pH test can also be used to measure and record the amount of acidity within the esophagus. This test is conducted over a 24-hour period and involves running a small tube and sensor through the nose and down the esophagus.
Most cases of laryngopharyngeal reflux do not require medical care and can be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter antacids.
However, if symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend prescription medication to reduce and neutralize gastric acid and increase pressure on the sphincter.
In severe or chronic cases, surgery may be needed to create a stronger valve between the esophagus and stomach.
Reduce Your Risk
There are things you can do to decrease your chance of developing laryngopharyngeal reflux. Most prevention methods are dietary and lifestyle changes, our recommendations include:
- Avoiding eating at least 3 hours before going to bed
- Limiting the amount of greasy, fatty, acidic, and spicy foods in your diet
- Lowering tobacco and alcohol consumption
- Maintaining a healthy weight through a well-balanced diet and regular exercise
- Practicing good stress management techniques
- Sleeping with your head slightly elevated by 4 to 6 inches
- Watching your caffeine intake
- Stopping when full to avoid overeating
If you have experienced these symptoms or feel as though you may be suffering from laryngopharyngeal reflux, we are here to help bring you relief. Contact Dr. Leggett & Dr. Lee’s office at (281)580-6797 to schedule an appointment today.