Silent reflux, or laryngopharyngeal reflux, is similar to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), however, it lacks the characteristic symptoms of GERD. Both conditions are caused by contents from the stomach moving backward into the esophagus. As the typical symptoms of gastric reflux are lacking in this condition, it is hard to diagnose silent reflux. In silent reflux, the contents from the stomach are not forced into the mouth, but remain in the esophagus for a longer duration. It is for this reason that silent reflux is often dangerous.
The contents in the stomach are kept in place by the sphincter at the end of the esophagus. When these sphincters are affected, food from the stomach backs up through the esophagus into the pharynx. The gastric acid present in the food may lead to inflammation of other areas in the upper part of the digestive system. It is more commonly seen in children, as the sphincters are not yet fully developed in their bodies. Infants spend most of their time lying down, which increases the risk of developing silent reflux.
The most common symptoms of this disease in children are:
- Chronic cough: If your child suffers from a persistent cough, it is time to consult a doctor. Since a persistent, chronic cough is often symptomatic of silent reflux, it is important to get this addressed right away. Moreover, the gastric acid can lead to inflammation and scarring of the upper digestive track.
- Asthma: Asthma could be an indication of respiratory distress or silent reflux. Since acid reflux can cause inflammation of other parts of the digestive track, you must consult your doctor at the earliest.
- Hoarseness: If your child’s voice becomes unnaturally hoarse over a short period of time, this could be on account of silent reflux. Consult a specialist soon and get the condition treated.
- Noisy breathing: If your child breathes noisily through the nose, this could be on account of a tonsil infection or silent reflux. Take your child in for a complete checkup and, if silent reflux is confirmed, get it treated right away.
- Difficulty eating food: If your child finds it difficult to swallow or eat food, it could be due to silent reflux. Because the food moves back up into the esophagus in this condition, it may be difficult for your child to eat or swallow food. Seek an immediate appointment with a child specialist and, once an accurate diagnosis is made, get the condition treated right away.
- Weight loss: If your child has lost a lot of weight in only a few weeks, this could be on account of restricted food intake due to silent reflux. So, make sure you get the condition treated right away after consulting a specialist.
In adults, symptoms include:
- Burning sensation in the throat: If you experience a burning sensation in the throat just after eating food, it could be silent reflux. Silent reflux causes semi-digested food and gastric acid to be pushed back up the esophagus; this can lead to inflammation of the upper digestive track and throat. In fact, the burning sensation you experience is the gastric acid reacting with the inner lining of the throat. Consult your physician right away and get this condition treated.
- Persistent cough: If you have a persistent cough that doesn’t go away despite taking medication for it, it may be time to pay your doctor a visit. Make sure your doctor checks for acid reflux and, if confirmed, get it treated immediately. Untreated acid reflux can lead to severe health complications.
- Hoarse voice: If you find your voice becoming hoarse all of a sudden, you may want to consult a specialist to see if you are suffering from acid reflux. Since acid reflux can cause inflammation of the upper digestive track as well as the esophagus, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis and have the condition treated; otherwise, it will lead to severe health complications.
- Feeling a lump in the throat: If you have a lump in your throat, you need to schedule an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat doctor to have it looked at. The lump could be indicative of other health conditions, such as cancer, or it could be on account of silent reflux. So, consult a specialist at the earliest and seek appropriate treatment.
- Difficulty breathing: If you experience difficulty breathing, it could be due to several reasons, chief among them being silent reflux. When food is pushed back through the esophagus, it remains there for a long time, causing inflammation. This can impede your breathing, so consult a specialist at the earliest since silent reflux, if left untreated, can even cause cancer.
- Difficulty swallowing: If you find it difficult to swallow food, it could be a result of silent reflux. Consult a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and get it treated right away. If left untreated, silent reflux can cause severe health complications and even cancer.
As food gets pushed into the throat and esophagus, the gastric content in the food may cause irritation in the throat and other areas. It can damage the upper digestive tract and is characterized by:
- Constriction of the area below the vocal cords: This can result in your vocal cords being affected, which can cause your voice to change and become hoarse.
- Ulcers: If you develop ulcers in the mouth and throat more frequently, this could be due to silent reflux and the inflammation of your throat. So, consult a specialist at the earliest and get it looked at right away.
- Recurrent ear infections: You may also develop recurrent ear infections as a result of acid reflux and the inflammation in the throat. So, if you find you are getting ear aches frequently, you may want to visit your physician at the earliest and have the cause treated right away.
- Accumulation of fluid in the middle ear: Accumulation of fluid in the ear could be indicative of acid reflux. Consult a specialist and seek medical treatment right away, since silent reflux can cause severe health complications, including bronchitis.
In adults with this condition, scar tissue can form in the throat and larynx. It may also increase the risk of other medical conditions like cancer, asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.
Simple lifestyle modifications can help alleviate the symptoms of this condition, including:
- Maintain a healthy body weight: Make sure to maintain optimal body weight and exercise regularly. A healthy body weight can only improve your health, along with lessening your risk of cancer and heart attacks.
- Quit smoking: Smoking can cause silent reflux and even exacerbate your current condition. So, try to quit smoking; consult a dietician for suggestions or a healthy diet, and try nicotine patches to help cut down on your cigarettes.
- Avoid alcohol use: Drinking too much alcohol is never good for your body and, moreover, it is known to induce silent reflux. Try to limit your intake or avoid alcohol together.
- Avoid trigger foods: Limit the use of triggers like mint, chocolate, fat, citrus fruits, and carbonated beverages.
- Do not eat late: Have food no later than two hours before going to bed. Make sure to wait two hours before going to sleep, since going to bed on a full stomach can induce silent reflux.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes: While tight-fitting clothes do not induce silent reflux on their own, wearing loose-fitting clothes can help you relax and thus alleviate some of the symptoms associated with silent reflux.
Medications like proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, prokinetic agents, and antacids are often recommended to manage symptoms. For some people, home remedies might not alleviate pain; in such cases, appropriate treatment will have to be given to manage this disease.
- Silent reflux is commonly found among young children because parts of their body, such as the sphincters in their esophagus, are not fully developed.
- Silent reflux is worse than GERD, as it can lead to more severe medical conditions, such as cancer, asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.
- It is important to maintain a healthy body weight, quit smoking, avoid alcohol use, and monitor the consumption of specific foods that trigger reflux to help manage or prevent silent reflux.