More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn—a symptom of acid reflux—at least once a month, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
Most commonly, acid reflux results in a sensation of burning in the chest, right behind the breastbone.
But reflux can also cause other uncomfortable symptoms, including sour taste in your mouth, belching, regurgitating food, and even a sore throat.
When it only happens every now and then, acid reflux isn’t likely to pose any major medical concerns.
If you have heartburn pain frequently and it doesn’t go away when you treat it, you may have a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Over time, GERD can cause damage to the esophagus and even heighten your risk of cancer—so make sure to speak to a doctor or a K provider if your heartburn is severe or ongoing.
What is Acid Reflux?
The tube that connects your mouth and your stomach is called your esophagus. Every time you eat or drink, a small band of muscle called the esophageal sphincter opens.
If, for some reason, that sphincter remains open or loose after you eat, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus. This is called acid reflux, and it causes the uncomfortable sensation of heartburn.
Along with pain behind the breastbone, acid reflux can also cause:
- Pain after eating, especially at night or after eating a large meal
- A burning sensation when bending over or lying down
- A sour, acidic taste in your throat
If acid reflux is chronic and doesn’t respond to treatment, it may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
GERD can also trigger other symptoms, such as:
- Dry cough
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bad breath
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
In some people, GERD can also cause a sore throat, which we’ll explore more in the next section.
Acid Reflux and Sore Throat
Burning in the chest is the most common symptom of acid reflux.
While a sore throat doesn’t necessarily occur with every case of heartburn, acid reflux and sore throat go hand in hand in some cases—particularly in cases of GERD.
Burning in the chest and upper stomach is the most common symptom of acid reflux.
A sore throat caused by acid reflux can come with some other symptoms, including:
- A burning sensation in the throat
- Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
- Regurgitating food or stomach acid
- Vocal hoarseness
- Continuous dry cough
- Frequent throat clearing
While a sore throat caused by acid reflux can be quite uncomfortable, it’s possible to reduce symptoms with treatment.
Why it Happens
Stomach acid is potent, and when it continually creeps back up into the esophagus, it can result in more chronic and severe symptoms than typical heartburn. Exposure to stomach acid can cause a sore throat and even affect the vocal cords, resulting in hoarse speech.
While sore throat from acid reflux is uncomfortable in the short-term, it can also cause long-term damage. Over time, stomach acid can actually damage the esophagus and throat, causing difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, and a feeling that food is stuck in your throat.
How to Treat a Sore Throat from Acid Reflux
If you have persistent heartburn, check in with your health care provider or a K doctor.
Along with diagnosing you, a medical professional can recommend treatments that reduce your symptoms and reduce your risk of long-term concerns. There are several effective medications and home remedies for acid reflux, including over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs.
There are several over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications that can help to relieve and prevent heartburn—and a corresponding sore throat.
Some of the most common medications are:
- Antacids like Tums, Maalox, and Rolaids help relieve heartburn symptoms by neutralizing your stomach acid.
- H-2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs), such as famotidine (Pepcid AC, Pepcid Oral, and Zantac 360), can reduce how much stomach acid your body produces. These don’t work as quickly as antacids but can produce longer-lasting relief.
- Proton pump inhibitors, including lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Nexium and Prilosec) can also reduce stomach acid and relieve reflux symptoms. Since your stomach is an important component of your immune system, acid lowering drugs can increase your risk of infection so should only be taken for a few months at a time unless directed by a healthcare provider.
If you have severe symptoms that don’t go away with OTC drugs, your health care provider may prescribe a prescription acid blocker or proton pump inhibitor, which may be a higher dose than the over-the-counter versions.
You can also try home remedies to soothe your heartburn and sore throat symptoms.
Start by avoiding foods that are known to cause heartburn, such as:
- Spicy foods
- Tomato and tomato products
- Fatty foods
- Fried foods
- Carbonated drinks
When you eat matters, too, in preventing heartburn.
It may also help to avoid eating large meals and avoid eating too close to bedtime.
Try not to bend over or lie down until a few hours after you finish eating, and always sit upright when you eat.
Other potentially helpful home remedies for acid reflux and sore throat include:
- Chewing gum: A small study suggests chewing sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal can improve reflux.
- Herbal tea: Herbal teas can soothe a sore throat, and the water in your tea can dilute your stomach acid and reduce pain. Add a teaspoon or two of honey, which is also soothing when you have a sore throat.
- Baking soda: Baking soda can help neutralize your stomach acid, much like antacid medications. Dissolve ½ teaspoon in four ounces water and sip slowly to avoid side effects like gassiness and belching.
- A glass of milk: Milk contains compounds that can help buffer stomach acid, but keep in mind that the fat content in whole milk may make heartburn worse. One glass of skim milk or a lower fat non dairy milk alternative might soothe your symptoms.
Sucking on a throat lozenge or sucking on a popsicle can also relieve a sore throat.
Make sure, too, to drink extra fluids if your throat hurts—just avoid drinking anything that might make your acid reflux worse, such as coffee, alcohol, or soda.
When to See a Doctor
Acid reflux symptoms don’t always require medical care. But if your reflux or sore throat don’t resolve on their own or when you treat them, see a health care provider.
Some signs that you should consult with a medical professional include:
- Having heartburn more than twice a week
- Symptoms that don’t resolve with over-the-counter medication
- You experience persistent nausea, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing
- You have a persistent sore throat with your heartburn
- You’re losing weight because of difficulty eating
If you’re experiencing severe chest pain or pressure, or your chest pain is accompanied by pain in your jaw or arms, go to the emergency department or call 911 right away.
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
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