Have you been in a situation where you keep coughing and none of the over-the-counter cough syrups or pills works? Perhaps you may find yourself frequently clearing your throat or in a worst-case scenario, throwing up after eating or drinking? For the latter, it happens when you consume certain foods and beverages. If you suffer from all or some of the above, you may be experiencing a condition known as silent reflux.
Now, before I proceed any further, keep in mind that this article is written from my own personal experience. In other words, the content of this article is not intended to diagnose and treat any medical condition or to substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your doctor or healthcare professional if you have any questions regarding your medical problem.
What Is Silent Reflux?
Also known as laryngopharyngeal reflux a.k.a. LPR, silent reflux refers to a symptom where stomach acid flows back up the oesophagus (food pipe) and into the back of your throat or voice box (larynx). And if you wonder why the reflux has the word “silent” in it, that’s because this symptom usually does not cause any symptoms in the chest.
Differences Between Silent Reflux And Heartburn
Here’s the thing about silent reflux and heartburn: Both of these symptoms are linked to your reflux condition. Let’s talk about the former, where symptoms of silent reflux may include:
- Chronic or persistent cough
- Frequent throat-clearing/hoarseness
- A “lump”-like sensation in the throat
- Sore throat
Heartburn, in the meantime, refers to the symptom where some of the contents from your stomach flow back up into the oesophagus. This, in turn, cause burning pain in the lower chest. And just to be clear, the term “heartburn” as according to Healthline, “actually has nothing to do with the pain [but actually] occurs in your digestive system”. Symptoms that commonly associated with heartburn may include:
- A burning sensation in the chest. This usually happens after you eat a large/heavy meal or certain trigger foods such as acidic, fatty or spicy foods.
- Foul or acidic taste in the mouth
- Symptoms tend to worsen when you lean forward or lie down.
The Dreadful And Annoying Experience Of Silent Reflux
As a silent reflux sufferer myself, experiencing such a symptom is no laughing matter. Silent reflux isn’t the kind of symptom where it comes and goes easily with just one or a few types of medication.
It all began over 3 years ago during the New Year’s Eve weekend. I remember I had a set of fried chicken for lunch and some time later, a scoop or two of alcoholic ice cream for dessert. Everything went well until a few hours later, there was a sudden burning sensation around my throat that made me nauseous. Believe it or not, I ended up vomiting… like a lot, in the washroom in a shopping mall. The thing is, I never had a problem eating alcoholic ice cream since I have a high alcohol tolerance.
But that very day was only the beginning. At the time, I figured it was just a random case of heartburn. As time went by, I started to cough more often and even sometimes throwing up whenever I consume certain food or drinks. I tried different over-the-counter medications (antacids happened to be one of them) available in the pharmacy but none of them really works.
Trying Some Home Remedies To Relieve Silent Reflux
As my reflux condition didn’t get any better, I tried switching from taking over-the-counter medications to using more natural methods via home remedies. This includes ginger tea and chamomile tea. Switching to home remedies did work but only to a certain extent. In other words, it wasn’t good enough to get rid of my annoying silent reflux condition.
Seeing A Doctor
I did go to see a doctor in my neighbourhood clinic and I remember he prescribed me a few medications, with one of them being omeprazole. I found out that this medication is commonly used to reduce stomach acidity, where I have to take them every morning. And guess what, it was sporadically effective but other than that, it didn’t really solve my silent reflux condition.
With none of the treatments seemingly help to relieve the symptom, I had no choice but to settle for the last resort — seeing a specialist in the hospital. From there, I had to go through everything from the medical check-up to taking a blood test and finally, a medical procedure called endoscopy.
I learned that endoscopy refers to a medical procedure where the doctor would insert a long, flexible tube into a patient’s mouth (performed in the surgery room while the patient is asleep after sedation). The tube contains a lens and a video camera, which helps to examine the inside of the patient’s body.
All this, from the check-up to the endoscopy procedure took me half a day of treatment in the hospital. After a thorough diagnosis, I found out that my cause of silent reflux was due to stress, sleep deprivation and poor eating habits. Here’s what I learned from the specialist about minimising the effects of silent reflux by *avoiding these trigger food and beverages:
- Instant noodles
- 3-in-1 beverages (e.g. instant coffee, milk tea)
- Caffeinated beverages (e.g. coffee, espresso)
- Citrus fruits (e.g. orange, lemon, grapefruit)
- Spicy foods (e.g. chicken curry, nasi lemak)
- Alcoholic beverages (e.g. beer, liquor, wine)
- Soft drinks
- Tomato-based foods (e.g. pasta)
- Fatty foods/fast foods
- Beans (e.g. baked beans)
- Full cream milk
* Trigger food and beverages vary from one person to another. Also, avoiding them doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these foods/beverages forever. Moderation is the key here. But if you are currently on medication as a silent reflux patient, at least wait until your condition improves.
Additionally, the specialist shared his professional advice about lifestyle habits and changes. This includes:
- Managing stress regardless of work or personal
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating smaller portions
- Chew your food well before swallowing (this helps to stimulate the production of saliva, which may help neutralise the acid that triggers the reflux from the stomach)
- Do not lie down immediately after eating. Wait at least 3 hours
- Do not eat too close to bedtime
After taking prescribed medications for 2-3 months (pantoprazole and *Gaviscon Advance), my silent reflux condition improved a lot. But most of all, the improvement was largely thanks to lifestyle changes and good eating habits. I tried my best not to work too late and sleep early.
I also become more selective when it comes to food and beverages (no more coffee and instant noodles for the time being!). For example, I often consume overnight oats for breakfast instead of the usual roti canai or nasi lemak.
*Gaviscon Advance contains a vital ingredient called alginate. It helps to form a liquid-like barrier on top of your stomach contents. This, in turn, reduces the effect of acid reflux from passing into the throat and oesophagus. You can also buy this in your local pharmacies and I found out that Caring Pharmacy sells Gaviscon Advance cheaper compared to others.
As a freelance writer, where my daily schedule consists of long hours of research and typing articles, I used to overwork myself. Right to the point where I suffered from burnouts. Having silent reflux and the fact that I spent so much time and money to get rid of the problem, I realised how important it is to always prioritise health.
Are you a silent reflux sufferer? If so, do share with us your experience.