I usually don’t blog about health issues, but today is the day. I was in bed the other night writing this in my head, feeling that I really needed to post this. So if you or any of those you love have some of these symptoms, please read on.
- Lump in throat
- Chronic coughing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Choking episodes
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in chest under breastbone
- Coughing or clearing throat after eating
- Post-nasal drip
It all started back in 2010 when I wasn’t feeling real well. I seemed to have trouble swallowing, even choking on some food. I originally thought I was just eating too fast, so I needed to slow down.
Then I noticed a lump in my throat. At that time I was limiting myself to one Diet Coke a day. As I was drinking it, the liquid felt like it was burning my throat. This also happened with coffee. I would give up that soft drink, but not my coffee. So I’d lay off coffee for a week or so and I’d feel better, and would resume my morning joe. But it finally got to the point that the lump felt so big that I thought it was going to block my esophagus.
But what got me to really do something about this was the cough. I would cough at night, keeping hubby awake. I often didn’t even know I was coughing but would wake up tired and alone (he had moved into the other room).
We first thought it was allergies even though we’d been living here for several years and I hadn’t done anything different. So I had those battery of allergy tests done and I found out that I was allergic to molds, pollen and our kitties, but not bad enough to warrant shots. We added air purifiers in the bedroom and my woman cave, two places where I spend a lot of time. I took the meds he prescribed and they did work – for a short time. But before long, the coughing came back.
It was time to check in with my family doc. At that time, the coughing had not been going on long, but she recommended a scope procedure to see if there was anything wrong. Results showed that I had Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). I didn’t get it. My understanding of GERD was that it was indigestion and heartburn which I didn’t really experience much. So I concluded that my GERD was not bad. However, in the back of my mind I kept wondering what was wrong with me. The doc doing the scope just gave me the diagnosis, but no information on what to do.
So after some time flew by, I went back to the family doc who told me that my GERD could cause coughing. Really? She had recommended earlier a natural product for heartburn and it didn’t work. I kept burping up it. So I went to the Internet, googled coughing and lump in throat, and found Dr. Jaime Koufman.
For the past 30 years, Dr Koufman has been researching the effects of acid reflux on voice and breathing. Her patients are singers who have lost, or were in the process of losing their voice. I didn’t have that problem, but had most of the other symptoms. She went on to explain that acid reflux didn’t always involve indigestion. This was a different kind of GERD. What I have is called Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) or Silent GERD. I was so excited to find someone who knew what I had and then I ordered her book, Dropping Acid – The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure. She writes on her website and in the book that LPR is often overlooked by doctors. And as Silent GERD patients, we don’t have the normal acid reflux (or much of it).
In her book she explains in detail LPR and it was me! Acid Reflux whether it’s GERD or LPR is believed to be the major cause of cancer of the esophagus and throat, so this is nothing to mess around with.
She also has lists of foods to avoid and and lots of recipes. If your reflux symptoms are severe, she has a “Induction Reflux Diet” which is eating nothing below pH5 for two weeks. After the two weeks she has a maintenance diet where you can add more foods into your diet.
I didn’t quite follow the Induction Reflux Diet, but did make a big change in what I ate following her advice.
My doctor was not hot on the the proton pump inhibitors (PPI) although she did say they were fine for short term use. Since I had no luck with the natural one, she suggested I try one of the other ones. I chose Prilosec with her orders to stay on only 6 – 8 weeks. I stayed on it 9 weeks, weaning myself off the last week with half pills. One of the problems with PPIs is long-term use can cause the symptoms to be worse or at least continue after getting off of them.
In addition to taking that PPI, I changed my diet per Dr. Koufman’s suggestions. So what did I cut out? Here is my list:
- I was no longer drinking soda, but was making and drinking seltzer water which is a no-no
- fried foods – don’t eat much of that but really enjoyed Dave’s fried green tomatoes
- all teas even herbals except for Constant Comment® or Chamomile
- spicy foods
- citrus fruits
- fatty meats
- butter, margarine, lard, shortening
- garlic, onions
She also recommends cutting out alcohol and cream sauces, both of which we don’t consume.
I started this life changing diet on November 18 when I was feeling probably my worst. I thought chocolate and coffee would be the hardest sacrifices. But what I found hardest was tomatoes. We had a banner crop last year and I dried a boat load of them for us to use this past winter. Dave also made sauce, salsa and roasted tomatoes for our winter eats. Giving them up was hard.
For the first three months I gave everything on the list up. Dave was wonderful and worked with this diet cutting WAY back on garlic and creating less spicy dishes. When he started working on the weekly meal planning, he’d ask me if his dishes fit into my diet. When he got to craving chili, he made me chicken noodle soup. (I know, I am blessed!)
It’s funny. Though this eating plan is restricted, I did find lots to eat. And I lost 10 pounds!! My coughing stopped while on Prilosec. I was concerned in February when I went off of it, but it hasn’t come back.
How am I doing on this new life style diet? Since my symptoms have subsided although I still feel a very small lump in my throat, I’ve eaten a little chocolate and a few tomatoes but we’re still not eating real spicy food. I have only had coffee once at Starbucks several weeks ago. I can eat tomato intense food such as spaghetti in VERY small amounts. Even though I love it and chili, I’d rather be symptom free than to eat that.
It’s amazing how much better I feel and I like the losing those extra pounds and keeping them off. I’ve never been real overweight, but have always struggled with those extra 10. I was amazed how the pounds flew off of me and have remained off. Do I miss my coffee? You bet. But my cup of Constant Comment (decaf tea) has been a good substitute.
Dr. Koufman estimates “there are 125 million Americans who have reflux, many of them unaware of it and many incorrectly diagnosed.” And she believes it is largely due to excessive acid in our diets. And this isn’t just for us Baby Boomers, it’s hitting even those in their 20s and 30s.
Her chapter, “What You Eat Could Be Eating You” explains reflux in terms we all can understand. She also includes a more scientific explanation in “Reflux Science You Can Digest.”
What I wanted to emphasize is that reflux, whether it is silent or not, can lead to serious problems and possibly cancer. Taking a PPI alone will not fix the problem without changing the diet. Eating slower is important. Eating smaller portions and not eating right before bedtime. Raising the head of the bed also helps. (I bought one of those wedge pillows. I’ve not had to use it since February.)
If you have a couple of the symptoms I listed at the beginning, check out Dr. Koufman’s website. If you believe you have LPR, get her book. The detailed food lists and their pH numbers is worth the cost of the book.
If 125 million Americans have it, I assume a couple of my readers either have Silent GERD or know of someone who has it. Since I’ve found that I have this, I’ve met two others who have been living with theirs and then while sharing my story I found someone who has problems with hoarseness and coughing. I’m hoping she’ll change her diet and get it under control before it causes irreversible damage.
I wanted to add that this post is my opinion and I am not receiving anything for reviewing her book, which I purchased.
Now that we’re done with that, let’s get back to artsy talk!
Thanks for sharing your journey on this topic, Lynda. I didn’t know all this had happened. I knew about your concerns and going to the dr., but didn’t know about all this follow up! I am so glad you found an answer.
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Lynda, thank you so much for sharing your journey. I traveled the extreme one for about 8 months. When I could no longer stand the pain and trouble swallowing and the lump in my throat, I had the tests. The tube down your nose is one that I will never forget. I am on Protonix and all the pain has gone away, but I still eat almost everything on your list of no, no’s. Now that I know about the silent GERD I’m definitely going to alter my diet–starting today! I’m ordering the book and I expect after years of suffering pain on and off I’ll be free!!! I’ve had eating problems since I was a child so finding the solution now is better than never. I can’t thank you enough for educating me.
Alice, Thank you for commenting and sharing your experience. What bothers me is the publicity of the PPIs says you can still eat stuff but then continue taking them. That’s not the solution. I’m glad you are going to alter your diet. Feel free to email me on how you are progressing. Lynda
Sorry to hear you are having those problems and having to alter your diet! I have never heard of GERD, but it’s good to know and watch out for it. I’m glad you’re feeling better, I hope you won’t have any more trouble with it now that you know what you can’t eat!
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Thanks! It’s good to know what it is for sure. Thanks for commenting.
from 2009-2011 I had severe severe LPR (also known as silent acid reflux or burnning throat). My Drs told me nothing. They gave me progressivly stronger and stronger PPIs. I got worse and worse. Finally a fundoplication surgery was done and my stomach was wrapped around the esophogus. I came out of surgery 10x worse. My Drs said there was nothing more they could do for me. I was very very sick. I researched and reserached and stumbled on to Vitamin (hormone) D. I took 8,000 IU of D and got my D score up above 65. I got better slowly and got rid of incontinence and severe pain in the shoulders (I suspect I had rickets or osteopina they call it now.) I take D tests now every 3 months and keep my score up above 65.
Elena, So sorry you had to go through all of that. How frustrating for you. That is what was great about my doctor. She told me to only take the PPIs for 6-8 weeks and then get off of them. Thanks for the info on Vitamin D and glad you are better now. So many people, including doctors, don’t know about LPR. I still struggle with it but have kept it under control with diet. Thanks again for dropping by and telling me your story and Vitamin D.
Thanks for this. Found it searching for “difficulty swallowing chronic cough,” which has plagued me for years. I very rarely have heartburn, but I do eat every one of the things on that list. I’m going to try the diet. BTW, I’ve been to several doctors and they have never even suggested GERD, because I rarely have heartburn. Since I’ve had this for years, I’m afraid that the damage is done and I will always have this problem, or I may develop throat cancer like my father had.
Amie, Have you ever had a scope? That will confirm whether you have GERD or not. And as I said I rarely had or have heartburn. I remember when I was so scared because I didn’t know what it was. My first thought was cancer. Don’t believe that the damage is already done. Eliminate those foods from your list. I know it’s hard but give it a try. Buy the book. As I mentioned in the post the book helped me realize that I was not alone and that I finally knew what it was. In my experience since I wrote that post, from time to time I can have a few of the stuff on the list. In fact, today is Sunday and for my treat I get to have coffee this morning! I still eat very little tomato-based foods and never chili. I still have the lump in my throat (or the sensation of a lump) but don’t have problems with choking or coughing. (It got to the point that I couldn’t eat a sandwich without choking.) I hate that I can’t go to a Mexican restaurant and pig out on salsa and spicy food but I much rather feel good than eat that stuff. Do I cheat? Of course. From time to time I’ll have a hankering for fried chicken and I’ll eat it but otherwise I’m pretty careful with what I eat. Please find a doctor who will listen to you and order a scope. Get her book. I’m sorry for what you’re going through. If your condition is like mine was, the hardest time was right now getting through it and getting everything settled down. Once it’s settled down, for me at least, I still have to watch my diet but don’t have the cough or the swallowing issue. Thanks for commenting and hope you feel better soon.