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Could You Have Acid Reflux and Just Not Know It?

After months of hoarseness, I went to an ear, nose and throat doctor to try and figure out what was causing my voice to alter so dramatically. It seemed like I was always on the cusp of laryngitis, and I occasionally felt as if I had a lump in my throat, so I got to Googling my symptoms. My imagination ran wild as I considered the possibilities of nodes on my vocal chords or even worse — throat cancer. Imagine my surprise when, after looking down my throat for all of 30 seconds, my ENT said I had a classic case of acid reflux.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

“Acid reflux is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases afflicting Americans,” says Jamie Koufman, M.D., director of the Voice Institute of New York, clinical professor of otolaryngology in the Mt. Sinai Medical System and author of many books on the topic, including the upcoming “Acid Reflux in Children: How Healthy Eating Can Fix Your Child’s Asthma, Allergies, Obesity, Nasal Congestion, Cough & Croup.”

In fact, reflux-related diseases affect at least half of all Americans and are rising at an alarming rate. And reflux-caused esophageal cancer has increased by more than 850 percent to become the fastest-growing (by incidence) cancer in the United States, Koufman says.

Evaluate Your Symptoms

Lawrence B. Cohen, M.D., professor of medicine and gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says that while typical symptoms of reflux, such as:

  • hoarseness
  • cough
  • repetitive throat clearing
  • breathlessness

Dr. Koufman adds to that list postnasal drip, sore throat, hoarseness, a lump-on-the-throat sensation and difficulty swallowing. Because these symptoms can also be caused by other health issues, silent reflux can be tricky to diagnose.

Adjust Your Diet

Good Things to Eat if You Have Acid Reflux

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A few things Dr. Cohen says you can do on your own to keep symptoms at bay: Maintain your ideal weight, nix cigarettes, too much booze and fatty foods and sleep on a 45-degree incline to keep stomach acid from rising up through your esophagus while you slumber.

Also, Dr. Koufman says that when you eat might just as important as what you eat when managing your symptoms. “Having dinner too late is the number-one risk factor for reflux; the kitchen should close four hours before bedtime for refluxers,” she says. As far as what to eat, Koufman recommends a clean (preservative-free) diet of lean proteins, green vegetables, alkaline water (Koufman herself conducted a study on its efficacy) and what’s referred to as an alkaline diet to keep acid production at a minimum.

Do You Need Meds?

Though there are a numerous over-the-counter meds to counter reflux symptoms, Dr. Koufman says people should know there are two different types of medications generally prescribed for acid reflux that work very differently — PPIs (proton-pump inhibitors) and H2As (histamine 2-antagonists). PPIs reduce acid in your stomach by blocking the enzyme in the wall of the stomach that produces it. They include:

  • Nexium
  • Prilosec
  • Protonix
  • Dexilant
  • omeprazole
  • pantaprazole
  • more

And according to Dr. Koufman, they never should have been sold over the counter.