Acid reflux from the stomach into the esophagus, commonly nicknamed GERD, often aggravates respiratory problems. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes coughing by two separate mechanisms:
  1. The acid spills over from the esophagus (swallowing tube connecting the mouth to the stomach) into the windpipe
  2. The acid in the esophagus can trigger a reflux leading to narrowing and inflammation of the bronchial tubes.

Both these mechanisms cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. For this reason, gastroesophageal reflux often aggravates pre-existing asthma. In some cases, gastroesophageal reflux disease can lead to coughing and wheezing independently of underlying asthma.

Lifestyle changes can reduce problems with gastroesophageal reflux. Patients suffering from symptoms of GERD should consider the following precautions:

  1. Avoid drinking alcohol, because it decreases muscle tone in the lower esophageal sphincter, which separates the stomach and esophagus.
  2. Avoid smoking, nicotine products and caffeine, which also decrease muscle tone in the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the likelihood of acid refluxing back into the esophagus.
  3. Avoid eating for approximately 2 hours prior to going to sleep at night.
  4. Elevate the head 8 to 12 inches while sleeping. This often requires a foam wedge under the top of the mattress to elevate the head of the bed.
  5. Avoid peppermint and spearmint chewing gum and hard candy.
  6. Avoid fatty foods, fried foods and tomato sauce, which also reduce the muscle tone in the lower esophageal sphincter and worsen gastroesophageal reflux.
  7. Some medications used to treat blood pressure, migraines/headaches, or irregular heart rhythms can decrease the muscle tone in the lower esophageal sphincter, and worsen gastroesophageal reflux as well.

"It is a wise mans part, rather to avoid sickness, than to wishe for medicines."
Thomas Moore, Utopia

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