Trouble Swallowing? Coughing?

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
  • Hoarseness
  • 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).

Dropping Acid
Dropping Acid

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:

  • coffee
  • 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
  • mint
  • chocolate
  • spicy foods
  • citrus fruits
  • fatty meats
  • tomatoes
  • 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!