The holiday season is a time for festivities and fun with friends and family. That means you will almost certainly be going to a number of parties where you’ll be eating and drinking more than usual. And that change in your diet means there’s a greater chance you’ll have to deal with acid reflux.
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux is when stomach acid comes back up the esophagus and possibly up into the throat. Commonly-recognized signs of acid reflux include regurgitation, burning or heaviness in the chest (indigestion), a sour or bitter taste in the mouth, nausea, burping, and difficulty swallowing. Less common or atypical symptoms of reflux are typically in the upper throat and may include hoarseness, a sore throat, a nonproductive cough, and wheezing. These symptoms are often labeled “silent reflux” because the patient is not aware their symptoms are being caused by acid reflux, and are sometimes more often thought of as sinus- or post-nasal drainage-related. Coughing up blood or more severe swallowing issues are more serious and require immediate medical attention.
What causes holiday reflux?
Overeating is a major cause, CEENTA Otolaryngologist Darrell Klotz, MD, said. This places undue pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is the muscle that acts as a valve and normally prevents stomach contents from coming back up the esophagus. Overeating causes the valve to momentarily fail to release the over-pressurization caused by too much in your stomach. This in turn causes regurgitation and heartburn. Reflux is worse when overeating is combined with alcohol – which relaxes the LES – or lying flat – which allows gravity to assist in the regurgitation of stomach contents.
Eating more times in a day also causes your stomach to generate more acid, Dr. Klotz said. Although eating more frequent, smaller portions is better than eating just a few larger meals a day, every time you eat, acid is produced to break down food for digestion. Therefore, the more you consume food the more acid your body needs to make to digest food. Thus, even people who don’t normally suffer from acid reflux symptoms can get them because of changes in their diet, like holiday eating.
Fatty foods, and those with citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spices, are some of the main foods known to increase acid reflux, Dr. Klotz said. Alcohol and smoking can also increase reflux.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize reflux symptoms, Dr. Klotz said. You can:
- Watch what you’re eating and avoid foods that cause those symptoms.
- Drink water, which keeps reflux symptoms, like hoarseness and a sore throat, from getting bad.
- Take an antacid, which can neutralize stomach acid.
- Take Gaviscon, a liquid you can swallow after meals that coats the stomach and acts like a blanket over the stomach contents, preventing them from regurgitating.
- Take H2 blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors, which decrease acid production by blocking the acid-producing cells in the stomach.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
- Quit smoking.
- Put blocks under the head of your bed to raise it 4 to 6 inches.
- Not eat at least 3 hours before lying down.
- Not wear tight clothes or tight belts.
- If overweight, take steps to lose weight.
By following these simple steps, you can help make sure you enjoy your holiday parties while dining in comfort and health.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Patients who think they may have acid reflux can make an appointment by calling 704-295-3000.