Did you know that more than three-quarters of asthma sufferers also experience gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as acid reflux? At first glance, a link between a breathing disorder and a malady involving the backward flow of stomach acids into the esophagus seems an unlikely one. And researchers aren't exactly sure how the two are connected. But since asthmatics are more than twice as likely to have reflux as non-asthma sufferers, it's clear there is a connection

Does acid reflux worsen asthma or does asthma irritate acid reflux? According to the Cleveland Clinic, both may be true. One theory is that the acid backing up into the esophagus irritates and injures the lining of the throat, airway, and lungs. This may make breathing in difficult and cause a cough. Another possible cause of the asthma-acid reflux connection is that the backed-up acid triggers a reflex that causes the airway to narrow. It's also possible that certain asthma medications known as beta-adrenergic bronchodilators increase the possibility of acid reflux in patients. The good news about the asthma-acid reflux connection is that treating reflux often results in relief of asthma symptoms.

While asthma in its severest form can kill, why worry about a seemingly minor condition such as acid reflux? The truth is that reflux can be deadly as well. In addition to causing heartburn and other discomforts, if untreated it can lead to lung damage, esophageal ulcers, and even esophageal cancer. Fortunately, there are simple changes in behavior you can make to minimize or eliminate your reflux symptoms:

  • Keep the head of your bed raised six inches. This allows gravity to work in your favor when it comes to keeping the contents of your stomach where they belong. Avoid using pillows, though, because they force your body into an unnatural position.
  • Stop eating several hours before going to bed.
  • Keep meals small.
  • Lose extra weight to relieve pressure on your stomach.
  • Try to avoid foods that relax the lower esophageal sphincter. These include chocolate, peppermint, fatty foods, coffee, tea, soda and alcohol. Smoking also relaxes the sphincter, so quit immediately.
  • Try to avoid esophageal irritants such as tomatoes and citrus.
  • Keep clothing loose and flowing.

You can also try over-the-counter antacids, but be aware that they should be taken for only a week or two. If you haven't found relief by then, talk to your doctor about a prescription medication to block or reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces.