Chronic Cough, Sore Throat, or Hoarseness

Ever had a doctor recommend antacids for your cough or sore throat rather than cough syrup? You probably thought, “Why would I need antacids? I don’t have heartburn.” While you may not be experiencing the typical signs of heartburn or acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), such as a burning pain in the chest, you may be experiencing “throat burn” caused by acid reflux.

Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle at the bottom of your esophagus relaxes abnormally, allowing acid to flow back into your esophagus. The LES works as a valve, opening to allow food to pass through the esophagus and into your stomach and closing to keep food and acid from flowing back into the esophagus. Pressure on the LES from overeating or lying down after eating can cause it to open, allowing acid into the esophagus, which can sometimes flow all the way back up into your throat.

Your throat sits on top of the esophagus and is not equipped to protect itself against stomach acid. When stomach acid backs up into your throat and vocal cords (the larynx), it can irritate the tissues and cause them to swell, which can make you cough, sound hoarse and make it painful to swallow. These symptoms are more common of laryngopharyngeal reflux or “silent reflux.”

These symptoms can be treated by home remedies such as limiting your intake of foods that can trigger these reactions. Some trigger foods that can cause acid reflux and irritate your throat include caffeine, chocolate and alcohol. You can also treat these symptoms with over-the-counter medications such as antacids. However, if you experience chronic cough, sore throat, or hoarseness frequently, you may have a more serious condition such as GERD and need to talk with a gastroenterologist.