Avoiding Holiday Heartburn

Prone to heartburn? You'll want to pace yourself during the holiday feasts.

Prone to heartburn? You’ll want to pace yourself during the holiday feasts.

The holiday season is in full swing and undoubtedly, you’re already salivating at the thought of enjoying Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s feasts. Unfortunately, many a holiday spread goes awry for those who suffer from acid reflux and resulting heartburn. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids are regurgitated back up through the upper body, courtesy of an esophageal sphincter failing to close at the right time. The resulting burning sensation in your chest is known as heartburn. For some people, the symptoms may present differently resulting in hoarseness, a sensation of something being stuck in the throat or difficulty swallowing. These are the symptoms of laryngopharyngeal reflux, when acid from the stomach is regurgitated farther than the esophagus up to the larynx.

Even if you’re prone to acid reflux symptoms, you can enjoy Grandma’s holiday turkey and fixings without dread by eating smart.

  • Don’t overdo it: Piling up and chowing down on a heaping plate of food is temping, but overeating or eating too quickly can push acid into the heartburn-generating danger zone. Choose small portions of a few of your favorite items on the table and take your time.
  • Make smart choices: Dark meat has a higher fat content, and fat is a top acid reflux trigger. Choose light meat cuts instead. Avoid creamy or dairy-based foods and sauces and choose multigrain rolls. Know that some otherwise healthy options also can trigger symptoms, too, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, raw onion and garlic.
  • Flavor with ginger: Small amounts of ginger can actually help ease heartburn, and it’s a great way to flavor veggie side dishes including carrots, cabbage, peas, broccoli and green beans.
  • End your meal on a healthy note: Even if you make all the best choices at dinnertime, know that popular after-dinner items can wreck your efforts. Alcoholic or caffeinated beverages and rich, high-fat desserts like chocolate pie are common culprits. In any case, a post-meal walk or a short nap with your head elevated six to eight inches can help to ward off a bout of acid reflux.

The good news is that acid reflux is highly manageable and symptoms can be alleviated with over-the-counter medications. However, if you’re hit with a case that seems more severe than usual, symptoms may be accompanied by a persistent cough, difficulty swallowing or a sensation of something in your throat (globus sensation) that lasts more than two weeks. Then, it may be time to see a doctor.

"But I don’t have heartburn" …Signs and symptoms of reflux disease.

It is very common for patients to believe that they do not have reflux disease because they do not experience the symptom commonly referred to as “heartburn”.  While having heartburn is a definitive symptom of reflux disease, it certainly is not the ONLY symptom.  In fact, individuals who suffer from reflux may not ever experience heartburn. Only about half of individuals with reflux disease experience the symptom of heartburn.

Acid reflux symptoms can range in severity based on the extent of the disease and how long it has gone on uncontrolled.  Patients often do not realize that the collection of symptoms they are experiencing is actually caused by poorly controlled acid reflux disease.

  • Chronic throat clearing
  • Intermittently hoarse voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Waking up coughing
  • Burning and/or sore throat
  • Regurgitation
  • Sensation of something stuck in the throat (“Globus sensation”)
  • Recurring sinus infections
  • Excess phlegm

The good news is that these symptoms can be eliminated or significantly reduced once the reflux disease is properly managed through pharmacological intervention along with modification of some lifestyle behaviors.  Often, reflux disease can be adequately controlled through lifestyle modifications alone (dietary changes, weight-loss, smoking cessation, etc).

If you experience some of the symptoms listed above, or experience heartburn regularly, schedule an appointment with Dr. DePasquale as soon as possible to obtain an accurate diagnosis based on your individual symptoms.  If left untreated, acid reflux disease can cause severe and irreversable damage to the tissues of your digestive tract, throat, voice box and teeth.

-Amy Michie, MA, CCC/SLP, St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat