When acid from the stomach travels up through the esophagus and reaches the throat, this is referred to as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). Anyone can experience laryngopharyngeal reflux, although the condition is more prevalent in older individuals.
People are at greater risk of having laryngopharyngeal reflux if they:
- Are obese
- Practice certain poor dietary habits
- Wear tight clothing
- Experience an excessive amount of stress
What Causes Laryngopharyngeal Reflux?
Laryngopharyngeal reflux happens when acid from the stomach travels up the esophagus and reaches the throat. When food is swallowed, it travels past the throat and down the esophagus, where it finally reaches the stomach. A small muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter is responsible for opening to allow the passage of food from the esophagus into the stomach, and closing again to prevent acidic contents from traveling back up the esophagus. This muscle can become weak or relaxed and fail to close, resulting in laryngopharyngeal reflux.
What Symptoms are Associated With Laryngopharyngeal Reflux?
Individuals with laryngopharyngeal reflux may also experience the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Irritation in the larynx
- Continuous need to clear the throat
- Post nasal drip
- Chronic cough
How is Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Diagnosed?
In many instances, no testing is needed in diagnosing laryngopharyngeal reflux, and the condition can be detected solely based on the patient’s symptoms. In cases where testing is required, the following three tests are most commonly used:
- A swallowing study during which the patient swallows a liquid known as barium that coats the esophagus, stomach and intestine, allowing a doctor to observe the passage of food
- An endoscopy during which an endoscope (long, thin tube with a camera) is inserted through the patient’s mouth and down into the stomach
- An esophageal pH test during which a thin tube is carefully inserted in the patient’s nose, through the esophagus and positioned a few inches away from the esophageal sphincter to measure the acidity of the esophagus
How is Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Treated?
The laryngologists at Tampa General Hospital have developed target treatment plans that are unique to the specific needs of each patient. Treatment options for laryngopharyngeal reflux typically include lifestyle changes such as:
- Weight loss
- Avoiding use of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine
- Using over-the-counter medications like antacids or proton pump inhibitors (PPI)
- Adopting a low-fat, low-acid diet
For patients experiencing severe laryngopharyngeal reflux, we may recommend surgery.