Acid reflux and a dry cough

A dry cough as the result of acid reflux


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
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An introduction to acid reflux and a dry cough

Acid reflux is a common digestive complaint nowadays, with up to 60% of the population thought to experience intermittent symptoms, and up to 20-30% of people suffering from more regular episodes.

Acid reflux occurs as a result of the improper functioning of the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS). This ring of muscles acts as the gateway between our oesophagus and stomach, so the muscle opens to allow the food we eat into the stomach, and closes again to prevent any backflow. 

However, if this sphincter isn’t functioning as it should, we can experience acid reflux as the contents of our stomach creep backwards into our oesophagus. This can give rise to heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms. 

One of the lesser known symptoms associated with acid reflux is a dry cough.

How does acid reflux cause a dry cough?

As the acidic contents of our stomach make contact with our oesophagus we can experience a number of symptoms. Heartburn is the obvious one, as the defenceless lining of our oesophagus comes under attack, but actually, other symptoms may also be apparent such as a dry cough.

A dry cough, as a result of acid reflux may occur as a result of the backflow of contents entering the oesophagus, and even reaching the pharynx, or the back of the throat, which can then triggers a natural cough reflex.

This symptom may or may not occur with other symptoms including hiccups, regurgitation or nausea.

Look out for coughing at night, after meals, when you are lying down, or for mystery coughs when you have a clear chest, as these may indicate your symptoms are more likely to be related to acid reflux. 

What can I try at home for a dry cough?

It is important to firstly try and determine the cause of your dry cough. If the cough is likely to be the result of acid reflux, there are some simple tips which may be useful:

  • Eat your way better. Consider what you eat. Keeping a food diary in order to determine if certain foods trigger your symptoms (milk may not be the best remedy after all) can be useful, but also considering your eating habits is important too. Make more effort to eat slowly, consciously chew your food, manage your portion size and avoid eating on the run! 
  • Change your sleep routine. Avoid eating too close to bed time to allow yourself some time to digest your food, stick to your evening meal and don’t give in to snacks after this time. Then, when you get to bed, consider your sleeping position – try elevating your head under some decent sized pillows so that gravity is on your side and reflux is hopefully less of a issue
  • Honey. Not just an old wives tale, but research has actually backed the use of honey in helping to calm dry, persistent coughs1. Honey is viscous in texture so helps to create a soothing layer throughout the length of the oesophagus. Good quality Manuka honey is also anti-bacterial in action so may also help to keep in impending infections at bay!

How can herbal remedies help me?

Although we do have some remedies which can help with regular dry, tickly coughs (click the link for more information) if you suspect your cough is a result of acid reflux then there are some other remedies that may be of use to you.

How can my doctor help?

For all persistent coughs we would always recommend you pay a visit to your doctor. They will be able to check your chest and decide what might be at the root of the cause. 

If acid reflux is likely to be to blame, your doctor may prescribe some antacid medication. This medication could help to address some of the associated symptoms, but always return to your GP if your symptoms persist.

 

1. Paul IM, Beiler J and McMonagle A et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 2007, 161(12), (1140-1146

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