Is there a connection between asthma and acid reflux?

Answers from James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D.

Asthma and acid reflux often occur together. It isn't clear why, or whether one causes the other. But we do know that acid reflux can worsen asthma and asthma can worsen acid reflux — especially severe acid reflux, a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Asthma and acid reflux can occur together in children as well as in adults. In fact, about half the children with asthma also have GERD.

When asthma and acid reflux do occur together medications may not work as well to control signs and symptoms of either condition, such as coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest pain.

Treating acid reflux may help ease symptoms. You may be able to control acid reflux with over-the-counter medications — for example, a proton pump inhibitor, such as omeprazole (Prilosec OTC). Avoiding reflux triggers, such as fatty foods, alcohol and tobacco, also may help. If that's not enough, prescription medications may be needed. In severe cases, surgery is sometimes necessary. If you have asthma and think you might have acid reflux, talk to your doctor about the best treatments.

In some cases, asthma medications can worsen acid reflux. This is particularly true of theophylline (Theo-24, Elixophyllin, others). But don't quit taking or change any asthma medications without getting your doctor's OK first.

Apr. 05, 2013 See more Expert Answers