GERD and Asthma: How Are the Two Conditions Related?

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Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows into the esophagus. The most common symptom of this condition is the sensation of “heartburn” felt in the lower chest area. If you experience acid reflux more than twice a week, you will likely be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

If you have asthma, there is a likelihood that you suffer from GERD, too. In fact, up to 50% of children and 80% of adults who have asthma also have GERD. These two conditions occur together, and unfortunately, they also exacerbate each other when attacks occur.

The Relation Between Asthma and GERD

GERD can worsen asthma, and asthma can worsen GERD. This is due to the human body’s physiology—the esophagus is both an airway and a food tube.

While ostensibly a respiratory problem, an asthma flareup can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax and allow stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus. Some asthma medication, such as theophylline, can cause heartburn and worsens reflux symptoms.

Acid constantly refluxing into the esophagus damages the throat lining. Irritated airways lead to persistent coughing and increased sensitivity to cold air, smoke, and other asthma triggers. Acid reflux also triggers nerve reflexes that cause the airway to tighten in an attempt to keep stomach acid from entering the lungs. A tightened airway causes shortness of breath, a common asthmatic symptom!

Asthma and GERD: Common Symptoms

GERD’s main symptoms are heartburn, regurgitation, sour/bitter taste in the mouth, chest pain, and chronic cough. Meanwhile, the four classic asthma symptoms are whistling breaths, shortness of breath, chronic cough, and chest tightness. When acid reflux is present, these symptoms are usually aggravated.

If you experience the following, asthma and acid reflux may be coinciding:

  • You suffer from adult asthma.
  • Your asthma symptoms get worse after eating a large, high-fat meal or after drinking alcohol or caffeine.
  • You are taking albuterol, prednisone, or theophylline. These medications increase reflux.
  • You suffer from asthma symptoms at night. You may be aspirating food particles into your lungs while lying down.
  • You have had an inadequate response, or you aren’t responding at all to asthma medication.

Asthma and GERD: Treatment

Whether asthma and GERD are treated together or separately, medications generally focus on prevention and controlling symptoms. Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for either condition.

If you suspect that your asthma is related to GERD or vice versa, inform your physician. He or she will likely prescribe medication that will act on one while not aggravating the other. Acid-suppressive medicines may help with asthma symptoms, too—so it pays to get a professional’s advice.

On the other hand, the side effects of asthma medications vary significantly from person to person. You may have to try different drugs to see if it affects your acid reflux.

You can reduce asthma and GERD symptoms by making some lifestyle changes such as:

  • Losing excess weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoiding food that triggers acid reflux (alcohol, caffeine, citrus, chocolate, fried food, spicy food, tomato-based food, and others)
  • Ensuring you have dinner at least 4 hours before your bedtime
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Avoiding asthma triggers


If your asthma and/or acid reflux attacks occur multiple times a week, consult a physician immediately. One condition aggravates the other, and you are likely to develop more complications if they coincide. Even medications to treat one condition can influence the other, so keep a close eye on how your body reacts to your prescriptions. If your symptoms get worse, you will need to adjust your treatment plan.

Reflux Away is your best source for everything you need to know about heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. If you want to learn about the connection between baking soda and acid reflux or finding out if mustard is good for acid reflux, check out more of our posts on our blog! We provide all kinds of content to keep you informed and help you with your condition. Visit our website for more useful tips.

If you’re looking to treat your GERD, visit our Heartburn No More website for some extremely useful tips.