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In April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested that all forms of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) ranitidine (Zantac) be removed from the U.S. market. They made this recommendation because unacceptable levels of NDMA, a probable carcinogen (or cancer-causing chemical), were present in some ranitidine products. People taking prescription ranitidine should talk with their doctor about safe alternative options before stopping the drug. People taking OTC ranitidine should stop taking the drug and talk with their healthcare provider about alternative options. Instead of taking unused ranitidine products to a drug take-back site, a person should dispose of them according to the product’s instructions or by following the FDA’s guidance.

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid travels up into the esophagus, irritating its lining.

This irritation can lead to a sore throat, a dry cough, and wheezing. It can also cause heartburn, a bitter taste in the mouth, regurgitation, indigestion, and difficulty swallowing.

Acid reflux is a common condition. A person may notice the symptoms when they are lying down or bending over, or after eating a big meal or spicy food.

Read on to learn about:

  • what acid reflux is
  • if it can cause a sore throat
  • acid reflux in children
  • treatments and self-care strategies
  • other causes of a sore throat

Acid reflux is another name for gastroesophageal reflux. It occurs when stomach acid and other stomach contents rise up into the esophagus.

Acid reflux is a common condition and often does not cause symptoms. When it does, a person may have indigestion or heartburn.

Some people develop chronic reflux, and doctors call this gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It causes more severe and lasting symptoms. About 20% of people in the United States have GERD.

In addition to indigestion and heartburn, acid reflux can cause:

  • a sore throat
  • regurgitation
  • nausea
  • pain or difficulty with swallowing

Having weakened or irregular muscles at the base of the esophagus can cause GERD. Other possible causes include:

Learn more about acid reflux, including how doctors diagnose it, here.

Yes. Acid reflux can cause a sore throat, though heartburn is the most common symptom.

When a sore throat stems from acid reflux, a person may also feel as if they have a lump in their throat.

Head and neck symptoms related to acid reflux can be misleading. Doctors sometimes misdiagnose a persistent sore throat from acid reflux as recurrent or chronic tonsillitis.

Complications of acid reflux

Some people who have acid reflux for a long time may experience:

  • Narrowing of the esophagus: The rising stomach acid can damage cells in the lower esophagus, resulting in scar tissue that narrows the organ. This can make swallowing difficult.
  • Erosion of tissues: The acid can also cause ulcers, which can be painful. This is known as erosive esophagitis.
  • Barret’s esophagus: This condition can cause changes in the tissue that lines the lower esophagus. These changes are associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Routine endoscopy exams can detect early signs of this cancer in people with Barret’s esophagus.

Laryngeal pharyngeal reflux

When stomach, or gastric, acid reaches the vocal cords, it can cause significant inflammation.

If this occurs repeatedly, it can cause in hoarseness, frequent throat clearing, coughing, and a feeling that something is stuck in the throat. The name for this issue is laryngeal pharyngeal reflux.

It often seems to begin as an upper respiratory illness. The symptoms may linger, as a result of damage to the vocal cords that can stem from even small levels of acid reflux.

Treating acid reflux effectively reduces the risk of its complications. Often, small changes to routines can make a difference.

Diet and other self-care strategies

Some people can prevent the sore throat from acid reflux by avoiding activities and foods that increase the risk of acid reflux and its complications.

In otherwise healthy people, these measures may be enough to manage acid reflux, without the need for meds:

  • eating small meals 3 to 4 times a day
  • elevating the head more during sleep
  • not eating 2–3 hours before bed
  • avoiding citrus juices, tomato juice, and other acidic drinks, which can irritate the lining of the esophagus
  • avoiding acidic, spicy, and fatty foods, including full-fat cow’s milk
  • avoiding carbonated, caffeinated, and alcoholic drinks
  • not eating mint or mint-flavored foods
  • avoiding chocolate
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • not wearing tight clothes
  • not smoking


Medication

OTC and prescription medicines can neutralize or reduce stomach acids, relieving the symptoms of acid reflux, including a sore throat.

Two helpful types of medication are histamine-2 blockers (H2 blockers) and antacids. H2 blockers help reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, while antacids can help with mild symptoms of acid reflux or GERD.

Other medications work by strengthening the muscles that separate the esophagus from the stomach, to prevent stomach acid from traveling upward.

Various acid reflux medications are available for purchase online.

When to see a doctor

A person should see a doctor if they have any bothersome or concerning symptoms, especially those that might indicate an underlying health issue.

It is also a good idea to contact a doctor if existing reflux symptoms worsen. Particularly if the symptoms are interfering with daily life, a doctor may recommend stronger medications or surgery.

Anyone who has indigestion with chest pain, shortness of breath, or pain in the arm or jaw should receive emergency medical care. These symptoms may indicate a heart attack.

Learn about the signs of a heart attack in females here.

Acid reflux can affect children and infants, as well as adolescents and adults.

Infants with acid reflux may refuse to eat or be unable to gain weight. They may have breathing difficulties or pain after eating.

The cause may be spending long periods lying down or an underdeveloped esophagus.

Also, some experts believe that the length of the esophagus, the condition of the muscles in the lower esophagus, and pinching of the fibers in the diaphragm may influence the development of this condition in children.

Children may also be sensitive to certain foods that affect the valve-like mechanism between the esophagus and the stomach.

When children have acid reflux, doctors may may recommend:

  • not lying down immediately after a meal
  • having the head raised more during sleep
  • the same changes to eating habits described in the self-care section above

For older children, depending on the severity of the symptoms, doctors may prescribe or recommend:

Several environmental and behavioral factors can cause a sore throat. It may be more likely that a viral or bacterial infection is responsible, such as:

  • A cold or the flu: These viral illnesses are the most common cause of a sore throat.
  • Strep throat: Group A Streptococcus bacteria cause the inflammation known as strep throat. Symptoms include a sore throat that starts suddenly, red and swollen tonsils, pain when swallowing, and a fever.
  • Diphtheria: This potentially serious illness can also cause a fever, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes, sometimes called swollen glands.
  • Whooping cough: This bacterial illness causes a sore throat by affecting the respiratory mucous membrane.

Some other illnesses that can cause a sore throat include:

In rare cases, a sore throat is sign of HIV or throat cancer.

Anyone with a weakened immune system, such as from HIV, may be prone to oral thrush and cytomegalovirus infection, both of which can affect the throat.

Allergies

Anyone with an allergy to mold, pet dander, or pollen may have a sore throat when they encounter these allergens. The allergic reaction causes mucus to accumulate in the throat, which results in pain and inflammation.

Dry air can also make some people’s throats feel raw and scratchy.

Smoke, tobacco, and alcohol

People who smoke or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of a sore throat.

Chewing tobacco or drinking alcohol can also irritate the throat.

Shouting and speaking

Talking for long periods without rest, speaking loudly, or shouting can strain the muscles in the throat, causing soreness.

Acid reflux can cause several symptoms, including a sore throat. Anyone can develop this condition, including infants. The treatment may involve self-care strategies and, for older children and adults, medications.

Speak with a doctor if the symptoms do not improve with treatment or worsen. Also, contact a doctor if asset reflux symptoms occur with any symptoms that are concerning.

If indigestion accompanies chest pain, shortness of breath, or pain in the arm or jaw, contact emergency medical services. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack.