Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is a condition in which stomach acid refluxes back up into the throat and affects the larynx and pharynx. Unlike gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the symptoms of LPR are not always apparent. The acid refluxed from the stomach can damage the mucosa of the larynx and pharynx over time, making it difficult to treat the condition completely.
What is Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR) and What are its Symptoms?
When LPR starts, stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, enters the throat, nose, and the larynx. The symptoms of LPR can be varied and may include:
- A bitter taste in the back of the throat
- Difficulty swallowing, often accompanied by choking
- Hoarseness, loss of voice or speaking in a strained manner
- Persistent coughing, breathing difficulties, or prolonged hoarseness
- A sore or burning sensation in the throat
- The feeling of mucus dripping from the back of the nose or into the throat
- If LPR occurs in children, parents should be aware of signs such as crying, refusal to eat, hoarseness, and difficulty gaining weight. Children may also have ear infections or frequent sore throats.
LPR is a condition that can be challenging to manage if not diagnosed and treated early. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you may have LPR symptoms.
Recognizing the symptoms of laryngopharyngeal reflux
The initial symptoms of laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) are often not clear. To detect the problem early, you should be alert if you experience the following symptoms:
- A bitter taste in the back of the throat.
- Difficulty swallowing, often feeling choked.
- Hoarseness, voice loss requiring frequent throat clearing.
- Frequent throat clearing, breathing difficulties, and long-lasting cough due to reflux.
- A sensation of pain and burning in the throat.
- Feeling of postnasal drip.
- In infants and young children, symptoms may include crying, decreased appetite, hoarseness, difficulty gaining weight, and respiratory problems such as coughing and ear infections.
The mechanism that causes laryngopharyngeal reflux is similar to that of gastroesophageal reflux, both caused by the upward movement of stomach contents. However, LPR does not cause belching, heartburn, or bloating.
The common cause of reflux of the esophagus
After being thoroughly chewed, food goes from the mouth down to the esophagus and stomach, where it is kneaded with the stomach’s secreted digestive juices. This process can cause food to be pushed up into the esophagus. In normal people, the esophageal sphincter muscle tends to close tightly to prevent food and digestive juices from flowing back up.
However, if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease or reflux esophagitis, the sphincter muscle weakens. It cannot close completely, so food and digestive juices can conditionally flow back into the throat and esophagus. This is the main cause of throat and esophageal reflux. In addition, many other factors contribute to the formation of this syndrome, including:
- Smoking, which affects the sphincter muscle.
- Deformation of the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Pregnancy in women.
- Being overweight or obese.
In addition, this syndrome often appears in infants and young children because their lower esophageal sphincter muscles are not strong enough to prevent food from flowing back into the esophagus and throat. As adults, the disease trend can decrease on its own.
According to experts, reflux of the esophagus has a significant impact on the patient’s quality of life. Besides the uncomfortable symptoms, if the syndrome lasts long, patients are also at risk of facing unpredictable complications:
Complications in children
Children with prolonged throat and esophageal reflux are likely to experience respiratory disorders, difficulty in development, and disorders in the oral cavity. They may also suffer from chronic coughing, pneumonia, or permanent hoarseness. In particular, as they grow up, children tend to have recurrent esophagitis.
Complications in adults
In adults, prolonged reflux of the esophagus can lead to many damages to the esophageal lining, the esophageal sphincter, and even the pharynx. Over time, the esophagus will be ulcerated, with scars forming in the tissue. All of these factors increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
How to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
When you suspect you have GERD, it is important to go to the hospital immediately for an accurate diagnosis. By checking symptoms and examining medical history, doctors can get a rough understanding of the condition. However, this is not enough to confirm the cause and nature of the disease. Doctors need to perform imaging and endoscopic tests to analyze specifically and then prescribe the most appropriate treatment regimen.
Imaging tests: Doctors use X-ray methods to obtain images of the throat to analyze the condition of the esophagus.
Endoscopy of the stomach: This method uses an endoscopic pill or nasal and oral endoscopy to identify issues in the digestive system and confirm whether the disease is caused by acid reflux.
By combining clinical and laboratory diagnosis results, doctors can provide the best treatment and prescription for GERD.
Effective treatment for Laryngopharyngeal Reflux
Laryngopharyngeal reflux is primarily treated with Western medicine, combined with building a healthy lifestyle. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to prevent complications or improve the quality of life for the patient.
Using Western medicine
Similar to the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease, doctors prescribe acid-suppressing and acid-resistant drugs for patients with laryngopharyngeal reflux. This method aims to reduce the amount of gastric acid produced, thereby reducing the risk of food refluxing from the stomach into the esophagus. Some commonly used drugs for this condition include:
- Acid suppressors: This group of drugs works by quickly reducing excess gastric acid. This helps to alleviate the symptoms of laryngopharyngeal reflux. Patients should take these medications before or immediately after meals. Acid suppressors available on the market today include Yumangel, Varogel, Phosphalugel, and others.
- H2 blockers: This group of drugs helps selectively inhibit histamine H2 receptors in the gastric parietal cells, thus reducing the secretion of gastric acid. Patients should not take H2 blockers for long periods of time as they can cause fatigue, headache, digestive disorders, reduced libido, and impotence in men.
- Proton pump inhibitors: This group of drugs has a similar effect to H2 blockers, but the mechanism of action is different. Proton pump inhibitors inhibit proton transport in the gastric parietal cells, reducing gastric acid secretion even when stimulated. Patients should use caution when using these drugs as they may increase the risk of osteoporosis and pseudomembranous colitis.
Using medication to treat acid reflux in the throat and esophagus can prevent the secretion of gastric fluid and alleviate symptoms of the condition. However, if the medication is abused for too long, it may pose various risks and unwanted side effects. Therefore, it is crucial to strictly adhere to the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.
If a patient with acid reflux in the throat and esophagus does not respond well to oral medication, and the condition worsens, surgery may be recommended to improve the function of the lower esophageal sphincter. Surgery may also be considered if the patient is at risk of complications such as having a tumor in the esophagus or developing Barrett’s esophagus.
In addition, patients can seek advice on traditional remedies to improve their condition. Alternatively, for safety and effectiveness, in mild cases of acid reflux, they can use Eastern medicine therapies or functional foods to manage the condition.
Changing to a Healthy Lifestyle
Whether through medication or surgery, patients should combine lifestyle changes and develop scientific habits. Specifically:
- Use alkaline foods or create alkaline alternatives for alcoholic beverages, pickled vegetables, fried foods, and spicy seasonings.
- Divide meals throughout the day instead of eating a lot at once. Eat every 2-3 hours to reduce pressure on the stomach and prevent acid reflux.
- Say “no” to soda, smoking, coffee, or alcohol for at least 3 hours before sleeping.
- Use ginger tea with honey to alleviate bitter taste or throat pain.
- Drink 2-3 liters of water per day, preferably alkaline water at least 30 minutes after meals.
- Use herbal remedies to reduce acid reflux and stomach problems to eliminate the root cause.
- Use a high and soft pillow when sleeping to reduce the risk of reflux in the throat.
- Sleep early to allow the brain to relax and avoid late-night stress that can stimulate stomach acid production.
- Take breaks and exercise to reduce the risk of symptoms in the throat and airway.
- If you are overweight, especially obese, you need to start a weight loss plan immediately.
- Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience any abnormal symptoms or signs of illness.
Acid reflux in the throat is a fairly common syndrome. If left untreated, it can have a very negative impact on the quality of life and may contribute to cancer. Building a healthy lifestyle, on the other hand, can help reduce the risk of disease or eliminate some symptoms. Therefore, don’t forget to see a doctor and follow health care instructions from professionals to minimize the risk of illness.
John Alen was born in 1971 and is a doctor in the healthcare and psychology fields with many years of experience. He is currently working at easyhealthylive.com, a leading health and psychology blog. Having studied at Y1 National Medical University named after IM Sechenov, John Alen is using his knowledge and experience to help improve the physical and mental health of people in the United States.