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Beyond the Heartburn: GERD's Impact on the Ears, Nose, and Throat

Updated: Nov 29, 2023



Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is primarily associated with digestive discomfort, but its impact extends beyond the stomach. In honor of GERD Awareness Week 2023, as observed by the Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation, we delve into the lesser-known connection between GERD and the ears, nose, and throat, shedding light on how this common digestive disorder can affect more than just the stomach.



GERD and The Ears

While it may seem surprising, connections between GERD and ear-related problems are possible.


Infographic on how GERD may affect the ears through earaches, ear infections, and ear pressure.
How GERD Affects the Ears / ENT Family

Acid reflux can have a detrimental impact on the ears. The acidic contents of the stomach, when they flow back into the esophagus, can irritate the larynx and heighten the risk of infection and damage in the middle ear. This can lead to issues such as eustachian tube dysfunction, impaired clearance of middle ear contents, and hearing loss.


The reflux of stomach acid can reach the middle ear, leading to conditions such as:

  1. Otitis Media: GERD-related acid reflux may contribute to inflammation in the middle ear, leading to recurrent otitis media or ear infections.

  2. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: Stomach acid can travel up the Eustachian tubes, affecting the balance of pressure in the middle ear and causing discomfort.

Other conditions that manifest in the ears due to GERD symptoms include:


GERD's Impact on Nasal Health


Infographic about symptoms that may arise when GERD leads to chronic sinusitis.
How GERD affects the Nose / ENT Family

While not everyone with GERD will encounter nasal symptoms, some individuals may notice the following indications:

  1. Rhinitis: This is inflammation of the lining of the nose. It can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and post-nasal drip.

  2. Sinusitis: This is inflammation of the sinuses, which are air-filled cavities in the skull. Its symptoms include headache, facial pain, pressure in the sinuses, and a thick, green discharge from the nose.

  3. Postnasal Drip: Stomach acid that reaches the back of the throat can trigger excessive mucus production, resulting in postnasal drip.


GERD and the Throat

Infographic showing how GERD affects the throat and can cause laryngopharyngeal reflux, irritation of the larynx, and hoarseness.
How GERD Affects the Throat / ENT Family

GERD is notorious for causing symptoms that directly affect the throat, including:

  1. Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR): Occurs when stomach acid from the esophagus travels up into the throat or voice box (called the pharynx/larynx)

  2. Laryngitis: Stomach acid irritation can extend to the vocal cords, causing inflammation and hoarseness.

  3. Chronic Cough: GERD-related acid reflux may stimulate a reflex in the throat, leading to a persistent cough.

  4. Throat Clearing: The constant need to clear the throat can be a manifestation of GERD-related irritation.

  5. Difficulty Swallowing: Known as dysphagia, this can occur when inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus hinder the normal swallowing process.


Managing GERD for Ear, Nose, and Throat Health

The impact of GERD is far-reaching, extending past one's physical health to at times, their mental well-being as well. Effectively managing the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) complications of GERD requires addressing the underlying causes of GERD and adopting specific measures to alleviate ENT symptoms.

  1. Lifestyle Modifications: Adopting healthy habits, including maintaining a balanced diet, avoiding trigger foods (such as acidic or spicy foods), and managing weight, can contribute to reducing GERD symptoms affecting the ears, nose, and throat.

  2. Elevating the Head During Sleep: Utilizing an elevated sleeping position by using additional pillows or an adjustable bed can help prevent nighttime reflux, minimizing the risk of acid reaching the upper respiratory system.

  3. Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity promotes overall health and can aid in weight management, reducing the likelihood of GERD symptoms affecting the ENT region.

  4. Smoking Cessation: Quitting smoking is crucial, as smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter, contributing to GERD symptoms. This positive lifestyle change can significantly benefit the ears, nose, and throat.

  5. Medical Interventions: Consultation with a healthcare professional may involve medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers to decrease stomach acid production and alleviate symptoms.

  6. Dietary Adjustments: Identifying and avoiding specific trigger foods can play a key role in managing GERD-related symptoms affecting the ears, nose, and throat. Consider consulting with a registered dietitian for personalized dietary guidance.

  7. Regular Check-ups: Periodic monitoring and check-ups with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or gastroenterologist can help manage symptoms effectively and prevent potential complications.

Everyone's responses to management strategies may vary, and consultation with healthcare professionals is crucial for personalized advice and treatment plans tailored to specific conditions and symptoms.



 

Is GERD causing you pain in your ears, nose, or throat? Schedule a check-up with our experienced otolaryngologist to help alleviate the pain.


Your health and well-being are our top priority—trust ENT Family for expert care and peace of mind.


Address: 3911 Hollywood Blvd suite 201, Hollywood, FL 33021, United States

Phone: 754-888-1368

Email: info@entfamily.com




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Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

ENT Family Blog

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