Silent reflux is a condition that causes stomach acid to back up into the throat and larynx. The pain that accompanies this condition can make talking and swallowing very painful. Often, this condition is confused with GERD, which is a condition that the contents of the stomach back up. While the conditions sound similar, and present with similar symptoms, silent reflux is not your typical gastro esophageal reflux disease.
How to Know If You Have Silent Reflux or Not
Unlike GERD, silent reflux does not present with heartburn. It can be difficult to diagnose, but there are some lpr (laryngopharyngeal reflux) symptoms that will help your doctor with the diagnoses process.
Babies see an increased risk for silent reflux due to their sphincter muscles not yet being fully developed. In addition to the immature sphincter muscles, they also have a shorter esophagus and spend much of their time lying down. Symptoms include:
- Chronic cough
- Breath that smells sour
- Wet sounding burps
- Trouble breathing that may sound like asthma
- Pauses in breathing or noisy breathing
- Difficulty feeding
- Frequent episodes of hiccups
- Spitting up often
- Eating quickly
- Hoarse sounding voice
- Difficulty gaining weight
If the condition continues, you may see fluid accumulating in the ears, and frequent ear infections can occur. Ulcers can also develop in the throat from the frequent exposure to the damaging stomach acid.
Adults might notice a bitter taste or experience a burning sensation in the back of their throat. However, these symptoms are also common in GERD. More specific symptoms of silent reflux include:
- Clearing the throat excessively
- Cough that is persistent
- Hoarse voice
- Feeling of a lump in the throat that swallowing repeatedly doesn’t clear
- Postnasal drip or excess mucus in the throat
- Trouble breathing that can sound like asthma
- Sore throat
How to Diagnose Silent Reflux
In order to correctly diagnose your condition, your doctor will look at your medical history, complete a physical exam and probably order a test or two listed below to determine if you have silent reflux.
- Endoscopic exam: A thin tube that is connected to a monitor is inserted into the back of your throat to get a look at the tissues in your throat and your vocal cords.
- PH monitoring: A small catheter will be inserted through your nose and will travel down into your throat and esophagus. The tube will remain there for the next 24 hours, and has connected to a small computer that is worn around the wrist. During this time, the sensors on the catheter will be monitoring acid levels and the computer around the wrist will record the results.
The vocal quality in speaking and the technique you use to speak will also be assessed to look for any problems that might be caused by the repeated expose to the harsh stomach acids.
How to Treat and Prevent Silent Reflux
1. Lifestyle Changes
Thankfully, this condition is easily treatable, and there are several treatment options and easy-to-follow methods of prevention available to those suffering from silent reflux.
One of the easiest ways to prevent lpr symptoms is to change the way you live. Lifestyle changes can have a substantial effect on your symptoms. To reduce or prevent reflux, you can try:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Avoid or limit alcoholic beverages
- Limit the consumption of chocolate, citrus fruits, carbonated beverages,mints, fats, spicy foods, tomato based foods or sauces, red wine and caffeine
- When sleeping, keep head elevated 4-6 inches.
- Avoid tight clothes around the waist
- Chewing gum
There are a variety of medications your doctor might recommend. Some of the most common medications used are:
- PPIs or proton pump inhibitors
- H2 blockers
What Will Happen If Silent Reflux Is Not Treated?
Silent reflux may seem like a condition that is just an inconvenience and not something that needs to be taken seriously. However, lack of treatment can lead to serious complications.
In infants and children
- Narrowing of the tissues around the vocal cords
- Frequent ear infections
- Chronic buildup of fluid in the middle ear
- Scarring in the tissues in the throat and the vocal cords.
- Lung diseases like asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.
An increase of cancer has also been seen in people who had silent reflux that went untreated.
A Word About the Prognosis of Silent Reflux
The good news is that the prognosis is excellent. With medication and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, people diagnosed with silent reflux can live a normal life without any serious complications.