Treating laryngopharyngeal reflux (silent reflux)

 

I’m in my local supermarket searching for anything that is low in fat. I weigh just 8 stone by the way, as in just about holding on to 8.0 stone by the skin of my teeth. I pop some light mayo and light margarine into my basket along with skimmed red-topped milk. I walk past the chocolate, pastries, pizza and white bread.
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Oh dear, she’s got an eating disorder you’re thinking. Well thankfully, the good news is that I haven’t, but I have been ill for nearly 5 months with something that took weeks to diagnose: Coughing, choking fits, breathing difficulties, trouble swallowing, a lump in my throat, losing weight and generally being pretty fed up about the whole thing.

I then went to France and ate a lot of ice cream, drank wine and peppermint tea, ate pastries and lots of chocolate in the evenings when the kids went to bed. Here’s a picture of me looking exhausted a couple of weeks ago – this is because I was coughing A LOT in between meals and all of the above symptoms had become even worse.

I’ve always been between 8 stone 5 and 8 stone 10, reasonably light but pretty healthy for my 5 foot 4 frame. I was one of those annoying women who gives birth and loses the weight in a few weeks and could still eat cake every other day. In one week I could easily eat a couple of packets of biscuits, several chocolate bars, pizza and pasta, steak, chips and all the fatty foods (crème fraiche and so on) and it have no effect on my weight. “Aren’t you lucky?” people would say to me. “Yes very lucky, I’m sure it will all catch up on me in the end!” I would reply. And it has – but not in the way I expected it to.

What is LPR?

After I got back from France I went back to the doctors again – choosing a new one, too embarrassed to see the same ones again. Enough is enough I said through tears. Within five minutes I finally found out I’ve been suffering with Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), otherwise known as silent reflux – it’s not just something that affects babies apparently, but hundreds and thousands of people around the world. Many of whom don’t even know they have it, and many who do and have to deal with taking pills every day and changing their diet drastically. Similar to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), LPR doesn’t leave you with heartburn so it can be harder to diagnose. It happens when your sphincter (which is at either end of your esophagus) doesn’t work properly. Stomach acid goes to the back of your throat or voice box or nasal airway. It then can cause inflammation in areas that are not protected against gastric acid.

Why now?

So why did I get it now at the age of 36? Stress and anxiety can play a part – and we all have our fair share of this at times so it’s not surprising that many of us will suffer with illnesses that affect our guts, IBS as another example. Whether you’re a new parent or you’re juggling work and life’s ups and downs, it can be confused for the following: health anxiety, asthma, hayfever/allergies and IBS. Since I’ve been told I had it I’ve met several people who talk about these symptoms and had no idea what it was – but without treatment or diet changes, it can lead to far more serious illnesses, such as cancer in the affected areas. No thanks.

It all began in April – after picking up a chest infection I never really recovered and was suddenly dependent on my inhalers again. I then had a rather unfortunate allergic reaction to a hair treatment and things continued to go downhill as my lungs took a battering and stress levels rose.

Each time I went to the doctors they sat and looked at me as if I was mad. “You are fine, there is nothing wrong with your chest, it’s clear and your SATS are great.” Another one was very helpful, but convinced it was all down to me not taking hayfever pills, a steroid nasal spray or my steroid inhaler regularly. So I did all that – things got a bit better, but the clearing my throat and coughing continued.

Symptoms of LPR

These are the symptoms according to the WebMD website:

  • Excessive throat clearing
  • Persistent cough
  • Hoarseness
  • A “lump” in the throat that doesn’t go away with repeated swallowing

Other symptoms may include:

When I finally got diagnosed with LPR I was thrown a prescription for Omeprazole (a Proton Pump Inhibitor) and told to come back in two weeks to let him know how I was getting on. Nothing about diet or the holistic approach, of course. I went away thinking, no, I don’t want to just take a drug and mask it all. I want to make it better. I did LOTS of reading up on it and was wary of taking something that may cause common side effects, dependence or make matters worse. I am not saying you shouldn’t take the drugs if your doctor tells you to do so – it’s up to the individual, and in fact most health professionals advise you take the medication at the same time as changing your diet, but I wanted to see a qualified nutritionist (registered dietitian and consultant nutritionist Deborah Norman) who could help me reduce my symptoms by looking at my lifestyle and tweaking what I put inside my body, while ensuring I don’t lose any more weight. For example, foods that are low fat are far better for sufferers of LPR because it’s high fat foods that cause acid – even avocado, as well as things like spicy foods and citrus fruits.

Why tell you all about it?

I’m not normally keen on writing overly personal blog posts, but I think it’s important to be open about health issues when they may affect someone on the inside and you have no idea on the outside. Sometimes I’m exhausted, other times I’m fine, most of the time I’m starving and other times I feel like I’m catching my breath. I can’t drink booze, and it’s not me being boring, it’s me wanting to be well!

The good news is that this will get better and I can start to bring all these foods back over time. My next steps are to follow a carefully controlled diet and keep a food and symptom diary. It’s now been seven days since I dropped chocolate, tomato-based foods and peppermint tea (chamomile tea for me now), and the results are already showing. But there’s a way to go. I can still work, I am going to go back to the gym (gentle exercise) and I am fine going out for days and evenings – as long as I watch my diet and I carry my inhaler on me if any coughing fits get out of control.

If you are starting to get any of these symptoms, remember that drugs can help, but diet changes can heal. This means following a low fat diet and eating bland foods that don’t stick in your throat (dry foods/nuts/malt loaf). Boring, but essential for now. I’ll let you know how I get on…

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