Laryngopharyngeal Reflux or LPR is a little known but common disorder that can cause major problems if left untreated. LPR is caused by the backflow of stomach acids and food particles up through the esophagus all the way to the voice box or larynx/pharynx. LPR may not be associated with eating and can occur at any time of day or night. If you suffer from acid reflux heartburn it does not mean that you are subject to LPR. The difference being the extent of the reflux travels in the esophagus. Acid reflux heartburn in most cases only affects the lower portion of the esophagus.
It is an interesting fact that many people who do suffer from Laryngopharyngeal Reflux may not even suffer from the effects of heartburn at all. The reason for this is that the refluxed material does not stay in the esophagus long enough to cause the pain and symptoms of classic acid reflux. A major portion of the acid reflux ends up in the throat where due to its sensitive nature extensive damage can occur.
The symptoms of LPR include chronic hoarseness, throat clearing and coughing. Many people also describe the feeling of a constant lump or obstruction in their throat. In addition you may also have the classic symptoms of acid reflux heartburn as well. Another symptom comes in the form of chronic nasal drainage into the throat which causes a cough or constant throat clearing. If you have these symptoms then you should contact an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) doctor also called an Otolaryngologist. Ignoring these symptoms especially if you are a smoker can lead to a serious medical condition.
The doctor will conduct an exam and may require some additional tests to determine if you indeed have LPR. The two most common tests used to diagnose LPR include a Barium swallow and a 24 hour esophageal PH test. You may find that your ENT will schedule you for both tests since the result provide different information. The Barium swallow is normally done as an outpatient procedure at the local hospital. Basically you will be required to swallow a chalky solution while standing in front of an x-ray machine. This test will tell the doctor how you are swallowing and if there is any abnormality in throat area.
The second test is called a Ph-metry test and it basically will monitor the Ph levels in your esophagus over a 24 hour period. The test is begun in either the doctor’s office or the local hospital. Many people find the testing procedure either annoying or uncomfortable but it is critical for a proper diagnosis of LPR. The test is begun by inserting a small soft inflatable tube into your nose and down in to the esophagus. Once inserted it is attached to a belt held computer that is worn around your waist. You will be required to wear these devices for a 24 hour period.
Once the doctor has reviewed the data and made his or her diagnosis you will be given a number of treatment options. In almost all case it will require a lifestyle changes in order to be effective. This especially true if you are a smoker continuing to smoke while suffering from laryngopharyngeal reflux disorder can in many cases lead to serious consequences including cancer of the throat. Many people will be asked to change their diet and add exercise to their daily routine. Specific medications may be prescribed to temporarily reduce stomach acid until the lifestyle changes are completed. In rare cases surgery to repair the lower sphincter muscle or LES may be necessary to prevent acid reflux heartburn and LPR.
As stated before ignoring LPR can lead to serious problems. These include noisy breathing, choking episodes, breathing problems like asthma or bronchitis as well as cancer of the esophagus, voice box and throat.