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.
By: Dinnie


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

  • Obesity
  • 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-

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Avoid lying on bed after meals. Better to take a short stroll after food.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. A little baking soda added in drinks or plain water works well in mild cases by neutralizing the acid coming from the stomach.
  7. You may also try over the counter anta acids for relief.

Visiting a doctor for further evaluation and diagnosis of the cause is suggested.

Take Care,

Buddy M.D.

Medical Advice (Q&As) on “Heartburn and Thick Sticky Mucus in the Throat

  1. Jesse

    I feel like something is stuck in my chest. Right behind my sternum. Keep drinking water but it’s not helping. Have heard it may be acid reflux.

    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      If it’s an acid reflux problem, you’ll have heartburn, some indigestion, and may be a burning sensation behind the sternum.

      Read above in detail about it, to see if the picture matches yours.

  2. Will Whitaker

    I’m at my wit’s end with this thick saliva,, started out with being two much saliva,, now this,, help me please,, tried meds and patches,, now taking 40 mg of Priloset ,, nothing works

    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Any associated symptoms, like headache, secretions from nose/ sinuses, heartburn, chest pain, couch, sneezes? Since when do you have this problem? Any recent change of residence?

  3. jennifer

    I’ve had somewhat the same for over 5 years with doctors never diagnosing it properly!
    Feels like think mucus at the back of my throat and I get so much air in my chest that I can barely breathe having to do anything possible to make myself gag to be able to breathe

  4. Nate

    Sound like you may have Eosinophilc Esophagitis (EOE). May be worth following up with a GI specialist. This could be due to a food allergy you newly developed or didn’t know you had and only your esophagus responds as the cells are different then the rest of the GI tract and the symptoms mimic GERD. However when trying to treat GERD symptoms nothing will help because that’s not truly the cause to your symptoms. Good luck!

  5. Skidwel

    Over the last 6 months I have progressed from having heartburn to a light cough with some mucus. This lasted one month. Then, I started noticing the cough to become more barking like. Now I have wheezing and extreme shortness of breath with a constant feeling of thick mucus just below my Adam’s apple.

    1. Skidwel

      Currently taking omeprizol to control heartburn but no improvement to breathing difficulty. Any suggestions are appreciated.

      1. Buddy M.D. Post author

        You need to see a respiratory specialist. A thorough check up would reveal the problem.

        Season is changing rapidly these days. It may be some hyper response of your respiratory system against many allergens that get evoked these days.

        Symptoms need to be controlled. You may also start using a humidifier in your bed room whenever possible. This is to add moisture to the air you breathe. Dry air aggravates cough.


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