Laryngopharyngeal Reflux | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

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Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

Overview and Facts about Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is a digestive health disorder that occurs when you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD. With GERD, stomach acid travels up your esophagus and when it reaches your throat it can cause LPR. When you have LPR, you may sound hoarse or feel like you need to clear your throat. In most cases, LPR doesn’t require medical treatment, as it can go away with simple lifestyle changes.

Symptoms and Signs of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

When you have laryngopharyngeal reflux, your throat may hurt, or you may have odd sensations that occur when you swallow. You may also experience heartburn or upset stomach, but these symptoms only occur in about 50% of LPR cases.

Other signs and symptoms of the condition include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Irritated voice box
  • Needing to clear your throat
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Sore throat
  • Trouble swallowing

Causes and Risk Factors of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

Laryngopharyngeal reflux occurs when stomach acid rises into your throat due to GERD. The stomach acid creates mild damage and irritation to the throat lining, leading to inflammation and discomfort. These symptoms are often made worse with spicy, acidic or fatty foods. Drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco can also cause symptoms to worsen, as can high levels of stress.

Although anyone can develop LPR, it’s most common in those who:

  • Are older
  • Are overweight
  • Have GERD
  • Have high-stress levels
  • Wear binding clothing

Tests and Diagnosis of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

In most cases, your doctor can diagnose LPR based on your symptoms and an examination of your throat. If the throat is irritated or swollen, especially near the voice box, you may have LPR. If this physical exam is not conclusive for a diagnosis, your doctor may ask that you:

  • Have an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy completed
  • Have a pH test, which can determine the level of acid in your throat
  • Participate in a swallowing study

Treatment and Care for Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

In many cases, treatment of laryngopharyngeal reflux revolves around lifestyle and diet changes which can prevent an increase in acid. Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco
  • Avoid clearing your throat
  • Don’t eat within two hours of going to bed
  • Eat a bland diet
  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Sleep with your head raised
  • Take over-the-counter antacids

If these lifestyle changes don’t reduce your LPR symptoms and your discomfort is severe, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to stop acid from rising into your throat.