People may be able to reverse the damage GERD causes if they treat their symptoms quickly and make the appropriate lifestyle changes. Others may need long-term medications and lifestyle changes to control their symptoms.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition where acid escapes from a person’s stomach into their esophagus.

Over time, the acid may damage the person’s esophagus, throat, and mouth, but many people can manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes.

This article looks into the damage GERD can cause and explains the steps they can take to help them heal from it. It also explores some of the ways people can manage their symptoms in the long term.

A person eating foods that are good for GERD -2.Share on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

There is no simple answer as to whether people can reverse the damage GERD causes.

It depends on many things, including the severity and duration of symptoms, what other parts of the body are harmed, and the person’s overall health.

Dental damage

If gastric acid erodes the person’s tooth enamel, it can lead to dental cavities, according to the NIDDK. Cavities cannot be reversed, but dentists may be able to fill the hole or extract the tooth.

Esophageal damage

People with GERD may experience damage to their esophagus.

Some people with GERD develop ulcers, according to a 2023 paper, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

Researchers explain that over time, people with GERD may be exposed to gastric acid, and bile salts, which damage the mucus layer inside the esophagus, leading to ulcers and possibly bleeding.

Ulcers can be slow to heal, even after treatment.

Lung damage

In a 2018 paper, published in The Open Respiratory Medicine Journal, researchers explain that if gastric acid reaches a person’s lungs, it can cause a variety of breathing problems and damage a person’s airways.

Many people experience recurrent respiratory tract infections, which can lead to bronchiectasis, where the bronchi or airways into the lungs widen, which increases the risk of infections.

The researchers note that the severity of a person’s lung injury varies from mild to severe, and recovery times lengthen accordingly.

In a 2022 review, published in the journal Cureus, researchers explored the link between GERD and asthma.

Doctors know that both conditions can cause the other and that while people respond well to medications including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that decrease the production of stomach acid, there is no cure for either condition.

Larynx damage

Gastric acid can also damage a person’s larynx, or voice box, causing inflammation.

The NIDDK explains that this can make their voice sound hoarse, and they may feel as if something is stuck in their throat. These symptoms usually improve if the person can manage their GERD successfully.

When a person experiences a GERD attack, stomach acid releases into the esophagus. Reducing the number of attacks means less acid comes into contact with other parts of the person’s body.

A 2021 review of the medical management of GERD recommends some lifestyle changes to help people with GERD reduce the chances of acid reflux.

These include:

  • achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • avoiding foods that may trigger an attack, including fatty meals, citrus, tomato, spicy foods, and chocolate
  • limiting or eliminating alcohol
  • quitting smoking
  • eating smaller meals
  • avoiding food close to bedtime
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • lifting the head off the bed with blocks or wedges so the person sleeps at an angle, with their head between 6 and 8 inches off the bed

Although doctors cannot cure GERD, many people see a reduction in attacks by modifying their lifestyles.

According to the NIDDK, doctors can also prescribe medications, including antacids, PPIs, and H2 blockers, which lower the amount of gastric acid the person makes.

Doctors may recommend surgery to people who do not respond well to lifestyle changes or medications. The NIDDK explains that fundoplication is the most common surgery.

This involves sewing the top of the person’s stomach around the esophagus to stop acid reflux.

Untreated or undermanaged, GERD can cause more serious problems.

With prolonged exposure to gastric acid, the lining of a person’s esophagus can become inflamed. Doctors call this esophagitis, and it can cause ulcers and bleeding in the digestive tract.

A 2018 paper published in the journal Missouri Medicine explains that over time, persistent bleeding can cause scarring or strictures. The scar tissue can narrow the person’s esophagus, making it more difficult for food to pass to the stomach.

Some people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus. The NIDDK explains that this is when the lining of a person’s esophagus changes, and the tissue starts to look like that of the intestines.

Barrett’s esophagus increases the chances of a person developing a rare cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Limiting the number of GERD attacks is key to minimizing and helping to reverse its damage.

If the damage is not severe and does not happen often, people may not experience long lasting effects.

Sometimes, GERD makes people develop asthma. The 2022 paper explains that doctors cannot cure asthma, but they may be able to limit its impact by controlling the person’s GERD symptoms.

Other irreversible effects of GERD include dental cavities and Barrett’s esophagus.

People with GERD experience acid reflux into their esophagus. From here, the gastric acid may spread to other body parts, including the person’s lungs, mouth, and throat.

Some injuries are mild, and people recover completely once they successfully manage their GERD.

If a person experiences repeated episodes of acid reflux over a long time, the injuries may take longer to heal or lead to permanent complications.