GERD Associated With Thick Phlegm in Throat
Q: I am a 35 year old woman. I have a very sticky and thick mucus in my throat. I can’t swallow it so I spit it often and it is irritating. Now I am experiencing something like heartburn. In the morning my heartburn is gone and comes back few minutes after I wake up. What is the cause of this and how can I cure it? I am so scared, please help.
From what you have written, it looks like that you have a condition called GERD. This is a common cause of heartburn and may also be causing thick mucus in your throat.
What Is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a condition where the sphincter (gate) between the esophagus (food pipe) and the stomach becomes loose. This leads to back flow of stomach contents into the esophagus. As it is understandable, the back flow is more while lying down, as gravity aids the flow in this position.
Stomach wall produces an acid called hydrochloric acid, which aids in digestion. So, in patients suffering from this condition, acidic contents from the stomach come in contact with the lower esophagus.
The condition immediately gives a burning sensation in the upper belly region, which is commonly referred to as Heartburn. It actually has nothing to do with the heart.
There are many reasons why this sphincter loosens up. You may be having any nerve issue or problem with some muscle that makes up the lower esophageal sphincter.
If you are very obese, fat may get deposited over the region, affecting the sphincter functioning. Read more on GERD.
GERD Leads to Mucus Production in the Throat
Stomach contents are acidic in nature. While the stomach wall, that produces it, can handle it well, our esophagus is not prepared to handle it and gets corroded.
The acid irritates the lower throat and an inflammatory response is elicited. Mucosal lining of the throat swells up and constantly produces thick, sticky mucus, in an attempt to protect itself from the acid. The patient feels as if something is constantly sticking in the throat.
You may feel symptoms like:
- Burning sensation just under your breast bone, or upper tummy area
- As if something in stuck in your throat, that needs to be cleared
- Constant urge to clear your throat
- Thick phlegm, which needs to be spit
- In a long run, this phlegm may cause chronic cough
- Soreness in throat, may even give throat pain
- In severe cases, change in voice may be seen. Voice becomes hoarse.
In severe cases, the reflux of stomach contents is too much, and reaches high up in the esophagus. You may get irritating cough and a running nose. Post nasal drip may be there. If even a trace of acid reaches the lung tubules, you may wheeze and cough constantly. The picture is similar to asthma.
Factors Aggravating GERD
- Late Pregnancy
- Having a heavy meal
- Consuming Coffee, alcohol or chocolates. These food stuffs adversely affect the sphincter muscles, allowing more of gastric reflux.
- After any surgery in the area
- Very spicy food, too much of onions and garlic
Asthma Associated With GERD
Nearly half of the patients with asthma have been seen to be having some element of acid reflux from their stomach. It’s a common observation that asthma worsens after large meals, when we expect more acid reflux due to increased chances of back flow.
How acid coming from the stomach leads to asthma symptoms can be explained in more than one ways. Firstly, the acid irritates a nerve lying close to the lower esophageal sphincter. This nerve supplies the muscles controlling breathing. On being irritated, it tightens the muscles, narrowing the breathing spaces.
So, the patient starts wheezing.
Secondly, the acid may directly irritate the inner linings of the breathing tubes. Inflammation occurs there. The tubes get swelled from inside and produce copious mucoid secretions. This narrows their lumen, giving wheezing.
How to Manage Acid Reflux At Home?
If you observe that you have symptoms of acid reflux, you may start following these general measures for relief-
- Avoid taking large meals at a time. Over filling the tummy may increase chances that the stomach contents would try to flow back. Instead, go for smaller frequent intakes of food.
- Limit to food stuff that aggravates acid reflux. These include chocolates, coffee, alcohol, smoking, too much of spices, onions and garlic, lots of tomatoes in a single meal.
- Avoid lying on bed after meals. Better to take a short stroll after food.
- Take your dinner early. Having a gap of around 2 hours between your dinner and sleeping time would give a chance for food to go further towards the intestine.
- You may raise your bed from the head side. This works well for many. It assures that your head, chest and upper abdomen is at a higher level than the rest of the body. Gravity would aid in preventing acid reflux.
- A little baking soda added in drinks or plain water works well in mild cases by neutralizing the acid coming from the stomach.
- You may also try over the counter anta acids for relief.
Visiting a doctor for further evaluation and diagnosis of the cause is suggested.