Silent Reflux and Sleep Apnea: Understanding the Connection and Finding Relief

February 12, 2024 | Sleep Apnea

Silent Reflux and Sleep Apnea: Understanding the Connection and Finding Relief

Have you ever experienced persistent throat irritation or a sensation like there’s a lump in your throat that just won’t go away? While these symptoms might lead you to think about gastrointestinal issues, the root cause could be something quite different. Dr. Shawn Allen, a seasoned otolaryngologist based in Houston, Texas, sheds light on an often-overlooked condition: acid reflux linked to sleep apnea. Commonly, patients consult gastroenterologists for acid reflux issues, but Dr. Allen emphasizes that when it’s connected to sleep disturbances, an ENT specialist’s perspective is crucial.

Sleep Apnea and Acid Reflux: A Silent Connection

The struggle for breath that characterizes sleep apnea can inadvertently lead to a condition known as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), or “silent reflux.” Dr. Allen explains that the increased effort to breathe, especially while lying down, can create negative pressure in the chest. This pressure makes it easier for stomach acid to travel up into the throat, affecting the larynx (voice box) and causing irritation. Symptoms of LPR include a persistent cough, throat clearing, and the feeling of a lump in the throat.1

Diagnosis of this condition involves a detailed examination by an ENT specialist like Dr. Allen. Using a flexible scope, he can inspect the throat for redness, swelling, and other signs of irritation on the voice box and vocal cords, which may even affect your voice.

Watch the video and read on to learn more about the connection between sleep apnea and acid reflux–and what you can do about it.

Treating Acid Reflux Associated with Sleep Apnea

Effective treatment for LPR involves addressing the mechanical nature of the problem:

Mechanical Treatments: Sleeping at an Incline

Elevating the upper body during sleep, either with an adjustable bed or a wedge-shaped pillow, can significantly mitigate reflux. This position prevents stomach acid from traveling up the throat, offering relief from LPR symptoms.

Dietary Adjustments: Eating Habits and Trigger Foods

Dr. Allen advises avoiding eating at least 3 hours before bedtime. Eating increases stomach pressure and acid levels, exacerbating reflux. Identifying and avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms can also be beneficial.

Alginate Therapy

A lesser-known but effective treatment is Alginate therapy, a supplement that forms a thick layer on top of stomach contents, reducing reflux. Dr. Allen mentions Reflux Gourmet, available on platforms like Amazon, as a helpful over-the-counter option. Alginate therapy has been used to effectively treat gastric reflux (GERD) and LPR for many years in Europe, and is becoming more popular in the United States.

Seeking Expert Care

If you’re experiencing symptoms of LPR, especially in conjunction with sleep apnea, it’s important to consult with a specialist. Dr. Shawn Allen, with his expertise in otolaryngology, offers comprehensive care and personalized treatment strategies in Houston. Don’t let silent reflux disrupt your life—get the expert help you need to breathe and sleep better. Contact us to schedule your appointment.

1 Cleveland Clinic. Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR). Available: Accessed January 29, 2024.

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