Asthma and acid reflux: Are they linked?

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Asthma and acid reflux: Are they linked?

Question

Is there a connection between asthma and acid reflux?

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Answer

Asthma and acid reflux often occur together. It isn't clear why, or whether one causes the other. What we do know is that acid reflux can worsen asthma — and asthma can worsen acid reflux. This can be particularly true if you have severe acid reflux, a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Asthma and acid reflux can occur together in children as well as in adults. In fact, about half the children with asthma also have GERD.

When asthma and acid reflux do occur together, asthma medications may not work as well to control signs and symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath. Likewise, asthma may worsen acid reflux signs and symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and chest pain.

Treating acid reflux may help ease symptoms caused by either condition. You may be able to control acid reflux with over-the-counter medications — for example, a proton pump inhibitor, such as omeprazole (Prilosec). Avoiding reflux triggers such as fatty foods, alcohol and tobacco also may help. If that's not enough, prescription medications may be needed. In severe cases, surgery is sometimes necessary.

Talk to your doctor if you or your child has frequent asthma flare-ups. You may need to adjust asthma-control medications such as inhaled corticosteroids or take other steps to control asthma symptoms.

In some cases, asthma medications can worsen acid reflux. This is particularly true of theophylline (Theo-24, Elixophyllin, others). But don't quit taking or change any asthma medications without getting your doctor's OK first.

If you or your child is diagnosed with acid reflux, asthma or both, getting the right treatment will help ease symptoms — and it may help prevent health problems associated with either condition.

Last Updated: 2010-10-08
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