Have you heard about acid reflux? That’s when you have that odd feeling of indigestion or heartburn after stuffing your face with a bit too much food.
For some people, it’s not a one-off thing. When it’s chronic, it’s called GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). It’s a digestive disorder that affects the sphincter, the muscle between the esophagus and stomach. When the sphincter isn’t working properly, then the stomach’s acid and food ‘burp’ back into the esophagus.
Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is similar to GERD in its cause. But the symptoms are not commonly affiliated to acid reflux. That’s why its other name is Silent Reflux, because many may not even know they have the condition. Like me.
My development of silent reflux was gradual and over several years. There were countless moments of anxiety from not knowing what I had. So I’m sharing my story in case it could spare someone else that same anxiety.
I started getting a sensation of a lump stuck in my throat. At first I thought little of it. I swallowed, cleared my throat, drank water. But over months, that lump became persistent especially in the afternoons and evenings.
After a while, I couldn’t take it. It seriously felt like something was in my throat. So I went to the doctor. My GP asked me a series of questions, but I only had the symptom of the lump. She did an ultrasound of my throat, and one of my tonsils was slightly swollen. So we took that as the cause. I was given meds and an inhaler just in case (although my family and I have no history of asthma). They meds didn’t do much, but I completed the course anyway.
On hindsight, knowing what I know now, I didn’t give my doctor the right information to help her diagnosis. I didn’t even know what the right information was!
With marriage came a slight change in diet. My husband and I love chocolate, so we’d each have a piece of dark chocolate every day. He also loves black coffee, so I started having it too.
The lump came back. There were times when it was so bad I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Interestingly, I had no difficulty swallowing. The lump cleared while I ate, only to pop right back up after I stopped.
I was worried, but was too afraid to get it checked. So I kept this to myself, making light mention of it only occasionally.
Finally I went to the next best help: Google. I didn’t find anything about lumps in throats. But I came across GERD, and the list of foods to avoid were the ones I’d been taking – dark chocolate, green tea, coffee, alcohol.
The food list seemed to fit, but I didn’t have any of GERD’s symptoms, like heartburn or regurgitation. I felt like I found half an answer, a situation more frustrating than relieving.
I avoided black coffee, but besides that, watched my diet haphazardly. Some months I was careful, other times I just didn’t care. Of course, that’s when the lumps returned in full force. I also started burping a lot, which helped relieve the sensation.
By the second half of the year, I became even more lax with my diet. The lumps lessened, but the burping increased. The turning point was when I started to have a persistent sore throat at the end of the year.
The sore throat stayed on. No matter how many drinks or teaspoons of honey I had, the soreness stayed. Then came the mornings when I woke up feeling like my throat was burning!
Because I was travelling then, I couldn’t go to a doctor immediately. I shone a torch to the back of my throat, and it definitely looked inflamed. Out of desperation, I googled for home remedies.
And that’s when I stumbled on a comprehensive description and explanation of Silent Reflux.
Yes!!! Everything about it checked out. It’s funny to be relieved to know that I have a digestive disorder, but I was just so glad to finally have the right and complete diagnosis. There was finally an answer to my silent desperate prayers.
I learned that the burning throat was caused by the backflow of acid, which happens often at night because the body is horizontal when sleeping. That backflow would cause burns in the esophagus – and if left unchecked, can lead to cancer.
The thought of cancer sobered me up. I now know that GERD or silent reflux is not something to be trifled with. Since that episode in January, I’ve been way more careful with my diet. As little caffeine as possible, no raw garlic and onions and tomatoes, among other things. I had to keep a food diary for a while to determine the triggers.
I also started eating smaller portions more frequently, exercising more, and sleeping with my head propped up. After the first night I propped my head up, I woke up with my throat moist! I knew for sure then that I got the right answer.
Cancer is a real thing
I still don’t know the initial trigger to my silent reflux. Maybe it’s always been there but I didn’t know it. Maybe it happened because of lifestyle changes. Whatever its origins, I now have to live with and manage it for the rest of my life. I still can eat some of the trigger foods, but sparsely and minimally. A scan probably has to be done soon to determine how badly my esophagus has been affected, but for now, it’s a matter of moderation and understanding my body.
So that’s my story. There’s much to explain about silent reflux, its symptoms and preventions, but I think it’s better if you read from the experts themselves. If you have any of the symptoms in the chart below, I suggest keeping a food diary and consulting a doctor (don’t be like me!). Don’t brush persistent acid reflux aside. Cancer is a real thing.
Even if you don’t have silent reflux, I advice that you take your health and fitness seriously. When we’re young, we tend to think that we’re immune to diseases. But silent reflux has taught me that we should never, ever take health for granted.