At first glance, asthma and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) seem like completely unrelated problems. After all, asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes the airways to narrow in response to triggers like allergies, while GERD is a condition in which stomach acid often splashes into the esophagus. One leaves you gasping for air; the other makes you regret eating that last slice of pizza.
But in the last few decades, doctors have uncovered a strong link between the two conditions. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, as many as 70 percent of all people with asthma also have GERD, which is more than twice the average rate. Also, GERD seems to increase the sensitivity of airways and worsen asthma symptoms.
If you have asthma, you should know that you’re especially vulnerable to GERD. However, by taking a few precautions, you can avoid some seriously unpleasant symptoms. Controlling GERD may even help keep your asthma symptoms in check, so what initially seemed like a double dose of trouble can actually turn into a win-win situation.
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What exactly is GERD?
GERD, also known as acid reflux disease, occurs when acid from the stomach reaches the esophagus. Normally, the connection between the esophagus and the stomach is controlled by a one-way valve, but if that valve becomes too weak, or if the pressure from the stomach becomes too great, acid will flow in the wrong direction.
Some people with GERD never notice any symptoms. In fact, up to 62 percent of people with asthma have a condition known as “silent GERD,” according to one study. However, acid in the esophagus often causes heartburn.
Other possible signs of GERD include difficulty or pain when swallowing, regurgitation (food coming back to your mouth), large amounts of saliva, a sore throat, hoarseness, cavities, inflamed gums, a sour taste in the mouth, bad breath, or chest pain.
If left untreated, GERD can damage the lining of the esophagus, a painful condition called esophagitis. In very rare cases, severe untreated GERD may also raise the risk of esophageal cancer over time.
Why do asthma and GERD go together?
Doctors aren’t entirely sure why so many people with asthma also have GERD, but there are a number of possible explanations. For one thing, some asthma drugs relax the valve between the stomach and the esophagus, making it easier for acid to escape.
While asthma and asthma treatments can lead to GERD, the digestive disorder may also contribute to asthma, especially if the GERD is severe. When large amounts of acid escape into the esophagus, a nerve reflex causes the airways to