A little bit of light heartburn is common, but if you experience it frequently and chronically, you could have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In addition to heartburn, the 3 main GERD symptoms are regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and water brash. However, like all medical problems, GERD symptoms can have side effects and can become associated other aspects of your body.

Take, for instance, basic sinus infections. At one point or another nearly everyone has experienced a sinus infection. It starts out as an everyday cold and worsens with headaches and pains in the sinus cavities of your face. It would seem that because GERD symptoms are concentrated in the chest and throat and sinus infections in the face and head, they couldn't be related. However, considering the 60 million Americans suffering from heartburn and 34 million suffering from sinusitis, there must be some overlap between the two ailments. The evidence, in fact, goes beyond statistical guesswork.

In a small 2002 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, subjects suffering from chronic reflux and sinusitis took Prilosec for 12 weeks. Though the drug is a popular anti-reflux medication, the researchers concluded that the subjects actually experienced a "modest improvement" in sinus symptoms.[1]

Over the years, subsequent studies, including ones from the Medical College of Wisconsin, showed that reflux can infiltrate the sinuses, leading to congestion and post-nasal drip. However, there is an important distinction that must be made. While GERD can be a contributing factor to sinusitis, it is probably not a cause.[2]

Sinus infections are also related to GERD through lesser GERD symptoms, like voice disorders and persistent coughing. When reflux travels, it goes through the esophagus, which it is likely to damage. This can lead to throat problems, which in turn affects your sinuses. In any case, if you notice that you are experiencing acid reflux and having sinus infections, the two may not be a coincidence.

[1] DiBaise, J.K et al. "Role of GERD in chronic resistant sinusitis: a prospective, open label, pilot trial." The American Journal of Gastroenterology, April 2002.

[2] Smith, Timothy, M.D., M.P.H. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, June 2005.