A GERD cough is a persistent cough caused by acid reflux issues. Sometimes it is the only symptom of acid reflux disease and is referred to as "silent GERD," but it is often associated with heartburn or chest pain. GERD cough is not stopped by cough or cold medicines. It is only alleviated by treatments for acid reflux disease.
Short for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder, GERD is the medical term for acid reflux, or persistent heartburn. Acid reflux is caused by a faulty muscle at the base of the esophagus. Under normal conditions, this muscle opens when swallowing, and closes while the stomach digests food. The muscle can be weakened by certain foods or medications, and may not open and shut properly. This causes stomach acid to enter the esophagus.
Patients with GERD usually report symptoms of heartburn and chest pain, often with an accompanying unexplained persistent cough. Medical professionals define an unexplained persistent cough as one that has lasted for more than three weeks and which does not respond to cough and cold medicines. Such coughs also show no abnormalities on bronchial x-rays, and there is no expectoration of phlegm or blood. GERD cough is the third most common source of persistent cough, surpassed only by bronchial asthma and postnasal drip.
GERD cough is caused by one of two gastroesophageal system failures. In most cases, acid in the esophagus will irritate the esophageal lining, and the body will try to expel the fluids. Less common is an overflow of the stomach acidic fluid into the lungs.
In order to stop a GERD cough, the patient must be treated for acid-reflux. Sometimes this can be done by diet changes, including avoiding and reducing the amount of spicy, acidic, or fatty foods in the diet. This includes caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, tomato products, fast-food, and chocolate. Other lifestyle changes to alleviate GERD symptoms include quitting smoking, losing weight, eating more frequent meals with smaller portion sizes, and not eating within three hours before bedtime.
If diet and exercise are not enough, more aggressive treatments may be prescribed. Regular use of antacids control many cases of acid reflux. Proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec® and Prevacid®, block the production of gastric acid and are available both over the counter and by prescription. H2 blockers, medications that decrease the production of histamine2 in the stomach, are a less frequently prescribed treatment option. Over 80 percent of patients report that GERD cough stops after aggressive acid reflux treatment.