Asthma’s Link to GERD

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You've likely heard of asthma, a disorder that causes airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, leading to shortness of breath, chest tightening, and coughing, among other symptoms.   Maybe you also know about GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, a digestive condition during which contents of the stomach leak into the esophagus, causing damage and irritation.

Dr. Allison Freeman says she is seeing more and more patients suffering from both at the same time.

"I think we're really just starting to understand the prevalence.  We would estimate that somewhere around 15% of all the asthmatics we treat have acid reflux disease," said Dr. Freeman.  She is Director of Allergy and Immunology at Geisinger Health Systems.

She says in patients with severe asthma, that 15% jumps to more like 50%.

"(Asthma patients) spend a lot of time breathing very hard.  When they do it, it distorts the way the stomach empties.  And then there's the medication that can cause additional symptoms to the stomach," she points out.

Not every person with asthma will develop GERD.  But if you do have it, it may be best to avoid soda and spicy and fatty foods, which promote acid production.  It also helps to not eat or drink anything before lying down.

Dr. Freeman points out it's especially important to look for the link in asthmatic children because they often can't describe the symptoms of heartburn.