Don’t assume your throat issues can’t be acid reflux just because you have no heartburn, chest discomfort or abdominal pain.

My father was recently coughing for no apparent reason, and I suggested it might be acid reflux. He said it couldn’t be because he didn’t feel any burning in his chest or stomach.

I told him you could have acid reflux affecting the throat without feeling any burning in the chest.

Why can acid reflux cause throat related symptoms in the absence of chest or stomach related symptoms?

“On occasion acid reflux can cause throat symptoms with no burning sensation in the throat or chest,” says Dr. Jeffrey Fine, MD, the chief of gastroenterology at the Medical Surgical Clinic of Irving.

“This is referred to as extra-intestinal manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

“It can be a direct effect of acid refluxing all the way up into the throat from the stomach. GERD can be caused when esophageal and cricopharyngeal muscle disorders occur at the same time.”

One day I developed a cough—every few minutes something would tickle in the back of my throat and necessitate a cough. No other symptoms.

At the time, it didn’t occur to me that acid reflux was the only explanation.

But in retrospect, this had to be acid reflux, affecting only my throat and without heartburn or chest pain—triggered by extreme emotional duress.

This every-two-minutes need to cough developed a few days prior to having to literally chase after my beloved dog down a busy street, trying to catch up to him before he got hit by a car.

Actually, my parents owned him, but I was staying with them to give the dog his brain cancer treatment because my parents couldn’t handle the injections.

He was deranged from the disease and had gotten loose from the yard after the lawn care people left the gate open.

I was running through traffic since the dog was running through traffic. This was a German shepherd and I began losing distance.

Finally, I saw a man approaching from another direction who was trying to help.

Suddenly I got really close to my beloved furry angel and reached out to grab his collar, but he tried to bite me, causing me to retract.

Then I reached out for his collar and almost had him–he bolted off, even ignoring my father as my father pulled alongside the dog and opened the car door and called for him to jump in—something the dog always loved to do—but now, only ran away in his demented state.

I called out to the man who had joined in on the attempt to catch the large dog, “A hundred dollars if you can catch him!”

Within a minute, the man had the dog. (And I stuck to my word and paid him $100.)

I knew it was time to call the vet and have him euthanized; he had taken a rapid turn for the worse over the past few days—this coincided with development of my cough; my heart was just breaking—I was about to lose my golden love.

He no longer “knew” his family and was defecating in the house, spending hours pacing frenetically.

Throughout this course I had also suddenly developed a change in bowel habits that included frequent diarrhea and foul smelling and weird looking stools.

I couldn’t help but think colon cancer. I scheduled a colonoscopy, which turned out to be two days after the dog was put down.

The stress and anxiety were ridiculous. I’d be sitting there at my computer, coughing every two minutes, taking swigs of the almost-nauseating syrupy solution to clean my colon out for the exam.

Stress-induced acid reflux?

Acid reflux can cause a persistent cough — a throat symptom — without causing any heartburn, chest or abdominal discomfort. I had the cough all the way into the exam room.

When the colonoscopy was over, and the doctor said everything looked normal, and I began coming out of the sedation. The cough was completely gone. It never came back.

The diarrhea and abdominal rumbling turned out to be microscopic colitis, a benign condition not related to acid reflux.

If you have a nagging cough or other throat symptom like a hoarse voice, but no heartburn or chest pain, this might be acid reflux.

But to be sure, see a physician, since throat symptoms can have other, more serious causes.

Dr. Fine has been in practice for over 25 years and specializes in digestive health, integrative medicine and food sensitivities.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
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