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GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, causes acid to back up into the esophagus, which triggers coughing. A GERD cough may produce shortness of breath and choking. If you have GERD, your coughing may cause irritating stomach acids to get into your lungs and cause pneumonia. GERD coughs worsen at night because, when you lie down, acid backs up into your esophagus and throat. Taking steps to stop your GERD cough minimizes the risk of choking and lung infections.
See your doctor. You need a physical examination to determine the severity of your GERD cough. Your doctor will examine your throat to check for signs of acid irritation. He will also listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to determine if you have fluid in them. Fluid in your lungs may indicate aspiration pneumonia brought on by aspiration of your stomach contents, including acid, into your lungs from vigorous GERD coughing.
Take your medication. Your doctor may prescribe, or suggest an over-the-counter medication to decrease acid production, which may relieve your cough.
Try an antacid. An over-the-counter antacid medication will decrease acid production. When acid production is decreased, you have a smaller chance of experiencing a GERD cough because the amount of stomach acid coming into your throat, triggering a cough, will decrease.
Ask about bronchodilator medications. Bronchodilators will open up your airway to decrease your chance of choking, and you will not get short of breath when you do cough. These medications have significant side effects, such as heart palpitations, so they should only be used for severe cases of GERD coughs.
Inquire about surgery. If other treatments fail to stop your GERD cough, ask your doctor if anti-reflux surgery is appropriate for you. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, who specializes in conditions of the digestive tract, including GERD. Anti-reflux surgery will stop a GERD cough.
When you sleep, elevate your head with pillows. If you lie in a semi-upright position, stomach acid is less likely migrate into your esophagus and throat. This will help stop a GERD cough.
If your GERD cough is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath or fever, call your doctor right away. This may indicate pneumonia and you will need antibiotic therapy.