If you've long assumed you have a mild case of asthma after experiencing occasional shortness of breath, coughing spells, or chest tightness, you may actually suffer from acid reflux. Excess stomach acid that backs up into your esophagus can cause hoarseness, coughing, and other respiratory troubles that may be misdiagnosed as asthma or allergies. Read on to learn more about the similarities (and key differences) between asthma and acid reflux, as well as some of your treatment options for both.
The Similarities Between Acid Reflux and Asthma
These conditions are quite different in physiology, but can have overlapping side effects. Acid reflux can occur when the acid "pumps" in the stomach are overactive, creating an excess of stomach acid that backs up into the esophagus. In other cases, individuals may experience acid reflux because of a weak or damaged epiglottis—the part of your throat that keeps food down once you've swallowed it.
Although acid reflux can often generate easily-identifiable symptoms, like frequent heartburn, bad taste, or even a burning sensation in the back of your mouth, in other cases, it may be more asymptomatic. Although this excess acid can still damage the back of your throat, it may instead lead to a hoarse voice, trouble breathing, or a feeling of congestion.
Asthma, on the other hand, refers generally to a restriction of the airway that can lead to trouble breathing. Some common symptoms of asthma include chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath, and a sudden onset of wheezing.
For milder asthma cases, these symptoms can significantly overlap with milder acid reflux cases. It can be hard to determine whether your sore throat and tight chest are a result of asthma-narrowed airways or an overproduction of stomach acid.
Your Diagnosis and Treatment Options
The first step toward treating your condition, whether acid reflux, asthma, or a combination of both, is to get a firm diagnosis through an otolaryngologist, most commonly referred to as an "ear, nose, and throat" (ENT) physician. An ENT physician can perform a thorough examination and discuss your symptoms with you to narrow down the possible causes.
For treatment, managing acid reflux can often be as simple as making a few dietary changes (such as avoiding high-acid foods and beverages like sodas, alcohol, and tomato products) or taking an acid-inhibitor that can calm your stomach's excess acid production.
When it comes to treating asthma, you may opt to carry a rescue inhaler that uses albuterol or another medication to temporarily open your airway and improve your breathing. Some people who have asthma also benefit from taking a daily respiratory medication to minimize the risk of a sudden asthma attack. Learn more about your specific circumstances by contacting services such as The Regional Allergy Asthma & Immunology Center, PC.