Post-nasal drip. Persistent cough. Hoarseness. A lump in your throat. If these sound like symptoms of the common cold, allergies or asthma to you, you’re not alone. Yet they could indicate a condition known as laryngopharyngeal reflux or “silent reflux” – a condition that plagues millions in America, but for too many remains untreated because many doctors don’t know the warning signs.
Here’s how silent reflux works: Ordinarily, your stomach makes enzymes that are activated by stomach acid to digest food. When one of those enzymes, called pepsin, travels out of the stomach as a result of your lying down or normal reflux, it can latch on to the throat and stay there. After that, any acid, from food going down or acid traveling up from your stomach, can activate those enzymes to eat away at the throat’s lining. Those enzymes cause your esophagus to swell, numbing the nerves that detect pain, so unlike “traditional” acid reflux, silent reflux doesn’t create the heartburn sensation in your lower chest to indicate the presence of acid. Read more about how silent reflux affects your body.
Without that painful sensation to indicate the need for treatment, over time the acid can cause the cells in your throat to become abnormal, potentially developing into esophageal cancer. An estimated 17,460 cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2012, with 15,070 deaths expected, making it one of the deadliest cancers out there.
Fortunately, there are several symptoms that correlate with silent reflux. Below is a quick and easy test you can take to detect it.
Assess Your Risk for Silent Reflux
This quiz, known as the Reflux Symptom Index (RSI), can be used as a first test to determine if you should see a specialist. Circle the appropriate number for each symptom and add up the numbers to find your RSI. If your RSI is 15 or more (and you have a zero or a one for heartburn), you should contact a doctor trained in detecting reflux by examining both the throat and esophagus.
3-Step Prevention Plan
The good news is that making simple changes to your diet can allow you to get your silent reflux symptoms in check. Here is a 3-step prevention plan to stop silent reflux before it starts.
Step 1: Deacidify the Foods in Your Diet
By eliminating foods that create acid in your stomach, or have a high acid content as they pass through your throat, you’ll reduce the chance of those stomach enzymes irritating your throat. Cut out acid-causing foods like chocolate, deep-fried foods, mints, and even certain healthy foods like tomatoes and onions. Instead, replace them with alkaline foods that actually reduce the amount of acid your stomach creates like green vegetables, bananas, almond milk, and oatmeal. In just two weeks, the majority of your reflux symptoms should be reduced significantly.
Step 2: Eliminate the 4 C’s
Caffeine, citrus, carbonated beverages (including seltzer), and cocktails all stir up acid in the stomach. And if you’re wondering what’s so bad about seltzer, stomach acid can essentially latch onto the carbonation bubbles, traveling up to your throat like a hot air balloon to activate the damaging pepsin enzyme!
Step 3: Send Canned and Processed Foods to the Trash
Cancer of the esophagus is up 850% since the 1970s, much of which can be attributed to changes in the American diet. So much of what we eat today undergoes a chemical acidification process in order to be preserved in cans or packages with ingredients like citric acid and ascorbic acid. When we eat those foods, we expose our throats to those additional acids, which of course can then activate the enzymes that eat away at our esophageal lining. Avoid canned and processed foods as much as possible, opting instead for fresh, delicious organic or all-natural foods. Your taste buds, and your esophagus, will thank you!