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Are Your Cold Symptoms Really a Sneaky Form of Heartburn?

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Could you have laryngopharyngeal reflux and not even know it? See if this sounds familiar: You can handle the symptoms of a cold for a week or so, but when the congestion, coughing and postnasal drip linger for more than a month — despite your best efforts to take care of yourself — you may start to wonder what you’re really dealing with. One possible answer: laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), also called silent reflux or airway reflux.

Caused by a backwash of stomach acid into the throat and nasal passageways, the condition doesn’t trigger a telltale burning sensation in the chest the way that heartburn does. Instead, LPR causes chronic vocal-cord irritation, bad breath, poor sleep and more. And it’s on the rise: According to a study at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, doctor visits for this type of reflux increased by almost 500 percent in a recent 10-year period.

LPR Treaments

Laryngopharyngeal reflux isn’t hard to diagnose, but doctors don’t always treat it effectively. In fact, 65 percent of the time, they prescribe proton-pump inhibitors, acid-blocking medications that, according to an analysis of multiple studies at the University of Bologna in Italy, don’t help relieve LPR symptoms. What does work? Research has shown that avoiding highly acidic foods and drinks, such as tomatoes, oranges, coffee and soda, can ease discomfort. In addition, FIRST uncovered these two study-proven natural remedies that will put you on the road to relief — fast.

Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Home Remedies

Alkaline water. Drinking alkaline water, which has a higher pH than tap water, can help ease symptoms, says Jamie A. Koufman, M.D., medical director of The Voice Institute of New York. In her recent study of bottled waters, she found that the one with the highest pH instantly neutralized pepsin — an enzyme that’s activated by stomach acid and is responsible for all the symptoms of LPR. In fact, Dr. Koufman says her patients who switch to alkaline water experience less coughing and better sleep within a few days.

To prevent pepsin and stomach acid from surging upward, Dr. Koufman recommends sipping a glass of alkaline water with a pH of 8.8, such as Evamor Natural Artesian Water (available at many major supermarket chains or online at Evamor.com; $13 for six 64 oz. bottles), after every meal. But if you prefer drinking tap water, you can make it more alkaline by mixing in 1⁄2 tsp. of baking soda per quart. Another option: dropping three AlkaZone Alkaline pH Booster Drops ($19 for about 200 servings, at Vitacost.com) into a glass of water.

Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Treatment: Alginate

Researchers at Nottingham University Hospitals in the United Kingdom found that adults who had battled silent reflux for at least four years experienced a 49 percent drop in hoarseness, chronic throat clearing and coughing within weeks of taking antacids that contained alginate. This mineral, which is extracted from seaweed, forms a foamy barrier on the lining of the throat, preventing stomach acids from irritating it. In another study, published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, a team of U.S. researchers found that alginate-based antacids provide long-lasting relief and are safe enough for use in infants and children.

For best results, look for the alginate-based antacid used in most studies: Gaviscon Extra Strength Antacid, which contains aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate — naturally occurring minerals that also help neutralize stomach acids and relieve heartburn. Gaviscon works best if taken after your last meal of the day (when the foam barrier can develop without being disrupted by food or drink). But if you plan to exercise (which can churn up stomach acids), it’s also a good idea to take a dose before you begin.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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