Living with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) means avoiding acidic and spicy foods, losing weight, not smoking, and keeping your head elevated when you sleep. You may even take medicine to manage your GERD symptoms.
But suddenly dealing with asthma was never on your radar.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of both conditions, they are likely linked. Here, Dr. Ayub Hussain, our board-certified specialist at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston and Cypress, Texas, explains the connection.
Is there a link between GERD and asthma?
Statistically, there’s no denying the relationship between GERD and asthma: Nearly 90% of people with asthma also suffer from GERD, and those with GERD are also 30% more likely to develop asthma than those without GERD.
Although the exact reason for this symbiotic relationship is not entirely clear, researchers have several working theories.
How GERD can trigger asthma
GERD causes your stomach acid to flow upward past your lower esophageal sphincter and into your esophagus. Over time, this can damage the lining of your esophagus and may even reach the airways to your lungs. It may even enter your lungs, called aspiration. If a persistent cough is one of your GERD symptoms, this is likely the reason. These breathing difficulties may trigger asthma.
Repeated exposure to acid reflux damages your lung tissue and makes it more sensitive to irritants like pollen and dust, which may trigger asthma.
Finally, when GERD forces acid up into your esophagus, your body naturally goes into defense mode and tries to keep the harmful substance out of your lungs. This is called a protective nerve reflex, and it automatically narrows and tightens your airways to protect your lungs. But it also makes it hard to breathe, which can trigger asthmatic symptoms.
How asthma can trigger GERD
If you have asthma, you may find yourself dealing with GERD symptoms, as well. That’s because an asthma attack causes pressure changes in your chest and abdomen, creating an ideal environment for acid reflux. Your lungs become inflamed and apply pressure to your stomach, pushing its contents upward.
Certain asthma medications — including prednisone and albuterol — may also be responsible for GERD because they cause your lower esophageal sphincter to relax and allow acid to slip by easily. Bronchodilators, which are designed to relax muscle tissue, may affect the smooth muscles of your esophagus and facilitate acid reflux.
How to treat GERD and asthma together
When you have both GERD and asthma, you must keep your GERD symptoms under control so they don’t trigger an asthma attack. If GERD is the sole source of your asthma, treating the acid reflux problem can resolve asthma as well.
In addition to advising you about lifestyle changes that can alleviate your symptoms, Dr. Hussain offers GERD medications that increase the pressure in your lower esophageal sphincter and keep acid out of your esophagus and your airways. These promotility drugs may also improve the movement of food in your esophagus, so you can swallow more easily.
If you suspect GERD-related asthma or asthma-related GERD, schedule an appointment with Dr. Hussain by booking online or calling either of our two offices in Houston and Cypress, Texas, today.