Can Acid Reflux Get In Your Lungs? An Expert Explains

If you have acid reflux or GERD, you would know how bad it can interrupt your life. Acid reflux has various symptoms that can be agitating, but the question here is if your asthma symptoms have also gotten worse since developing GERD. Or have you started experiencing other breathing problems lately?

If that is happening, then it probably means that acid has invaded your lungs, keep reading this article to get a precise insight into how and why this happens.

Can Acid Reflux Get In Your Lungs? 

animated picture of a man with glowing lungs

Acids are supposed to stay in your stomach, but when the lower esophageal sphincter malfunctions, these acids find an opening and enter the esophagus. They can leak into your digestive tract and cause GERD symptoms such as chest pain, chronic cough, and heartburn (a burning sensation in your chest). Not only that, but this digestive disorder can cause more severe problems, such as lung conditions.

Stomach acids can most certainly enter your lungs and affect them badly but remember, the good news is that this complication won’t arise if your chronic acid reflux is gastroesophageal reflux disease. This means that stomach acids will only go as far as the lower esophagus and only cause dreadful symptoms of GERD in your chest area.

However, GERD’s extraesophageal variant, Laryngopharyngeal reflux LPR, also known as silent reflux, will cause these acids to go beyond the lower esophagus to the upper part. From there on, they can be led straight into the lungs and even cause permanent lung damage.

Keep reading to know how acids can enter your lungs through the upper esophagus.

Read also: Can a Heating Pad Help With Acid Reflux?

How Does Acid Get Into Your Lungs?

When your LES disrupts, it will start relaxing at the wrong times and allow the stomach acids to enter your Lower esophagus. 

In case you have LPR, those acids will reach the upper esophagus. From there on, they can be breathed into the airway. Once that happens, they will find their way into your lungs and the inhaled air, irritating and inflaming your airway tissue. 

When acid reaches the back of the throat, it can affect the entire respiratory system by either going North and causing sinus/ ear infections or going south, causing bronchial tube and lung-related problems. 

Read also: Home Remedies For Heartburn: 20 Fast Ways To Get Rid Of Acid Reflux

Signs That Acid Reflux Has Entered Your Lungs

male doctor showing how acid reflux gets into your lungs

Take a look at the symptoms listed below, and if you are experiencing them frequently, it’s time to seek proper medical advice because, unfortunately, acids have entered your lungs.

  1. Irritation in the throat
  2. Wheezing, cough, shortness of breath, and airway spasms or asthma.
  3. Bronchitis 
  4. Pneumonia 
  5. Persistent coughing 

Read also: Best Vodka For Acid Reflux

What Happens When Acid Reflux Enters Your Lungs? 

You might ignore this situation because acids entering the lungs aren’t a big deal. Always remember that GERD and acid reflux are severe medical problems; when neglected, they only worsen. 

We have comprehensively described several potential consequences of acids entering your lungs. 

Take a look below to learn how acid-filled lungs can become fatal. 

Aspiration Pneumonia

When your stomach contents and other acids back up into the throat, they can be inhaled in the airway. This will cause airways and lungs to get infected and even inflamed.

Aspiration pneumonia is also known as the silent killer, and this name is certainly not an exaggeration. It shows little to no symptoms, which makes it hard to identify, and some evidence suggests only 30-day survival in 21% of aspiration pneumonia patients. 

Fact: if your respiratory system is robust, it can fight off the Aspiration itself. Otherwise, antibiotics are to be taken. 

Pulmonary Fibrosis  

If you are experiencing frequent shortness of breath, that might be an indication of pulmonary fibrosis. It is a health condition and lung disease in which the air sacs (alveoli) get scared. The damage stiffens the tissues, hinders the lungs from functioning correctly, and makes it difficult for oxygen to enter the blood.

Acid reflux and GERD are considered substantial risk factors for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) because toxic stomach acids can further harm these scarred tissues.

This will cause respiratory problems, and you might experience shortness of breath or, perhaps, a shallow breathing pattern.

Read also: Does Cauliflower Cause Acid Reflux?

Inflammation Of The Upper Respiratory Tract 

Acid reflux can affect your respiratory system in several ways, including upper respiratory tract inflammation. When acids and stomach contents are deposited into your upper and lower airways, they can easily inflame these airways because of their toxicity. Moreover, stomach acids are high in concentrated hydrochloric content, and as you may already know, this acid causes severe damage to exposed tissue.

When this happens, common symptoms such as sore throat, the emergence of a bitter taste or sour taste in your mouth, difficulty breathing, and headaches can occur. 

Infection of the upper respiratory tract can also affect your lungs and cause noticeable damage. 

Treatment Options 

female doctor smiling with a notepad in her hands

Read also: Does Pumpkin Cause Acid Reflux?

The above-listed problems are common risks of acids entering your lungs. They can become life-threatening as well. Thus, seeking medical attention and getting a correct diagnosis is essential because treating it at the sight of the earliest signs is important. 

Sleeping Position

Acid reflux during nighttime tends to be much worse than during day time. Not only does it interrupt your sleep, but it causes severe discomfort as well. There can be several triggers for nighttime acid reflux, such as consuming large meals before laying down or eating GERD-triggering snacks in the middle of the night. However, your sleeping position remains the main cause. 

The good news is that you can use gravity to your advantage and adopt sleeping positions that significantly prevent reflux. 

By laying on your left side, the angle of the esophagus and stomach will be secure and GERD-friendly; it will prevent acids from leaking into your food pipe. 

Some other ways include elevating the head of your bed by 4-8 inches, sleeping with fewer pillows, or laying down in a relatively upright position. 

Tip: after eating a meal, you should wait at least 45-60 minutes and then go to bed. This way, your digestive system can process most of the contents, and they won’t spill into the esophagus. 

Dietary Modifications And Precautions 

When you develop acid reflux, your digestive system becomes extremely sensitive, and you must immediately make lifestyle changes.

The most common reflux-trigger foods are dairy products, fatty foods, spicy foods, acidic foods, and citrus fruits. 

It would be best if you adopted a gerd-friendly diet that is rich in fiber content. Other than that, it would be best to try eating smaller portions rather than large meals. This way, your system will find it easier to process food, and the risk of reflux flare-ups will decrease. It is also important to avoid substances such as alcohol and cigarettes while making exercise a part of your daily routine. Weight loss is advised for GERD patients because obese people are at higher risk of developing this digestive problem.

Prescription Medications 

Antibiotics and counter medications are suggested if precautions and modifications don’t work. You can directly take GERD medicines such as proton pump inhibitors or other h2 blockers. When acid production decreases, so will the risk of lung infections. 

If you wish to relieve the pain of a specific problem, then medicine would be prescribed accordingly. For instance, if you want to subside asthma symptoms, asthma medications should be taken along with other symptoms.

Read also: Is Grape Juice Good For Acid Reflux?

Can Acid Reflux Get In Your Lungs Summary

Now that we have discussed in detail why and how acid enters your stomach, it is essential to remember that acid reflux is one of the medical conditions that can cause painful symptoms and serious problems. When you notice something unusual, visit your healthcare provider and get proper medical advice.

If neglected, severe GERD, LPR, and NPR can get out of hand and even become life-threatening.