Can Acid Reflux Cause Coughing?



Acid reflux CAN cause coughing.

More Info: Acid reflux CAN cause coughing. Acid reflux is a common cause of chronic cough.  In fact,  acid reflux is one of the top three causes of chronic cough.


The Difference between Acid Reflux and GERD

Acid reflux is medically referred to as gastroesophageal reflux (GER).  GER is common and occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, does not close properly allowing stomach contents and digestive juices to rise up into the esophagus causing discomfort and pain.   The terms acid reflux, acid regurgitation, and gastroesophageal reflux are generally used interchangeably. [1]

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a more severe form of acid reflux.  Persistent acid reflux occurring more than twice a week is considered GERD. [2]

What Is a Cough?

The airways are lined with cough receptors designed to clear the airways of lung irritants.  When stimulated by irritants such as smoke, dust, or foreign bodies, the cough reflex is triggered in attempts to expel the irritant from the body.  [3]

The body reacts to anything that irritates the cells along the air passages by coughing.

Why Acid Reflux May Cause Coughing

In the case of acid reflux, the cough reflex can be triggered by aspiration of the contents of the stomach into the esophagus, which then stimulates the cough reflex.  Acids in the lower portion of the esophagus may also stimulate a cough reflex through neural reflex arcs without any aspiration into the esophagus. [4]

Acid Reflux a Common Cause of Chronic Cough

GER is one of the top three causes of chronic cough along with postnasal drip syndrome and asthma. (Postnasal drip is the leading cause in 41% of the cases, followed by asthma in 24% of the cases, and GER in 21% of the cases.) Though it is a leading cause of chronic cough, GER is usually not initially suspected because of the absence of common symptoms such as heartburn and acid regurgitation.  Interestingly, forty-three percent of the time, cough is the only symptom of GER. [5]

Expert Opinion


“Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is a common cause of chronic cough. Moreover, chronic cough can be the sole presenting manifestation of GER disease (GERD). It has been suggested recently that GER most often causes chronic cough by stimulating the distal esophagus.”


[Chest; Irwin RS]



Glossary of Terms


Aspirate: the sucking of fluid or foreign matter into the air passages of the body.
Collins English Dictionary


Esophagus: muscular tube connecting the throat (pharynx) with the stomach.


Reflex Arc: s a neural pathway that controls an action reflex.


Reflux:  to cause to flow back or return.


Regurgitation: A backward flowing. For example, vomiting is a regurgitation of food from the stomach, and the sloshing of blood back into the heart when a heart valve is incompetent is a regurgitation of blood.





[1] [2]National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House
Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)



[3] National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute
What Is a Cough?



[4] Annals of Thoracic Medicine; Gajanan S
Pulmonary manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease
2009; Volume: 4; No: 3; Pages: 115-123


[5] The American Review of Respiratory Disease; Irwin RS
Chronic cough. The spectrum and frequency of causes, key components of the diagnostic evaluation, and outcome of specific therapy
1990; Volume: 141; No: 3; Pages: 640-647


Resource: Chest; Irwin RS
Chronic cough due to gastroesophageal reflux. Clinical, diagnostic, and pathogenetic aspects.
1993; Volume: 104; No: 5; Pages: 1511-1517



Resource: WebMD
Understanding Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – Symptoms


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