I was diagnosed with Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR), a type of reflux disease (GERD) in which stomach acid and dietary acid (i.e. acid in the food we ingest) affects the esophagus and the larynx (the “voice box”). In my case, LPR’s symptoms overlapped with those of common cold/sore throat so it took me time to realize that my condition was not one that would go away with warm water, lemon and honey. In fact, my symptoms were made worse by having milk, honey, lemon or mint.
I was broadly aware of the term “acid reflux” and thought that it was simply heartburn caused by the occasional overeating. I was ignorant about LPR and would likely have never observed my symptoms or taken them seriously were it not for the fact that:
(A) I temporarily lost the use of my voice, which affected my work and social life; and
(B) the very antacid I was advised to take caused more reflux.
For me, LPR led to continuous dry cough (making it difficult to lie down or sleep), a constant burning sensation in the throat (sharp, as if a match was lit under the throat), pain while swallowing and a hoarse voice. It was so painful to speak, sing or whistle that I stopped these activities, which normally brought me joy and helped me deal with stress. Soon, due to these symptoms and pain, I got anxious while attending meetings, the cinema or taking the subway because the dry cough would start suddenly without warning and not stop. I had to always be prepared and carry a flask with me. Sometimes this was not possible and it would be very difficult for me to manage my cough publicly. I also had nasal congestion, post-nasal drip and abdominal bloating.
Moreover, the antacid I was prescribed to take itself caused more reflux. The stress caused by the anxiety and pain also led to more reflux. This was a loop which needed to be broken not just through medicines but also through changes in daily food and stress management techniques. I was advised speech therapy and learnt the right way to breathe and exercises for my vocal muscles.
LPR significantly lowers quality of life and it is important that those who have it take remedial measures quickly so that they are able to enjoy life in public settings. In this effort, I was greatly helped by the book “The Acid-Watcher’s Diet” by Dr Jonathan Aviv, an ENT surgeon and educator based in New York, and medication/diet prescribed by traditional alternative medicine (Ayurveda), both of which advocate “Food as Medicine”. These principles have helped me eat intelligently, improve my quality of life and manage LPR for the long-term.
After I shared my LPR experience with friends and family, I realized that there are many people like me who are broadly aware of acid reflux but unaware about how wide-ranging its symptoms are and how poor gut health leads to precancerous conditions and other major health issues. With more research, I hope the link between gut health and other diseases (especially those affecting the immune and nervous system) are understood so that preventive or early intervention measures can be identified.
Thank you for your support.