How Your Cough May Be a Sign You Have GERD

When it comes to digestive issues, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is certainly one of the most common. In fact, some reports suggest that 15-30% of the population in the United States has GERD. Now let’s take a look at another statistic: GERD is responsible for 25-40% of all cases of chronic cough.

Here at Lexington ENT & Allergy, board-certified otolaryngologist Dr. Alexa Lessow and our team understand the close relationship between GERD and coughing and we explore that here.

Behind your cough

Coughing is certainly gaining more notice these days as we face a dangerous respiratory infection, but let’s step back and take a look at what a cough is designed to accomplish.

While coughing may be annoying, it serves a very good purpose — clearing your airways. Whether it’s mucus from your lungs or something lodged in your esophagus, coughing is your body’s way of protecting itself.

There are also any number of problems that can lead to coughing, such as allergies, colds, or simply dust, but a persistent cough usually signals a larger problem.

GERD and coughing

GERD leads to many symptoms, with heartburn leading the charge. This makes sense given that GERD is caused by stomach acids that flow back into your esophagus and irritate the lining. What isn’t as obvious is a GERD-related cough, which occurs for two reasons:

  • The cough is reflexive action to the rising stomach acids
  • Stomach acid droplets come into contact with your larynx

This second cause of coughing is called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), or silent reflux. WIth LPR, you may also experience hoarseness or the feeling that something’s stuck in your throat. Making matters more confusing, you may not experience any heartburn with LPR, which is why you should seek the help of a specialist to determine what’s behind your chronic cough.

Resolving your cough

When you come see us, our first order of business is to determine the source of your cough. As we mentioned, if it’s GERD-related, you may or may not have other obvious symptoms, namely heartburn.

After reviewing your symptoms and performing a physical examination, we may run additional tests. For example, to check for conditions like LPR, we often test your esophageal pH levels, which indicates whether stomach acids are present.

The bottom line is that our goal is to relieve your cough, which we can do with spot medications, as well as by addressing your underlying condition, including GERD.

If you‘re struggling with a persistent cough, contact our office on the Upper East Side of New York City so that we can get you on the road to relief.



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