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What Is Acid Reflux?

Outline of a human figure showing anatomy of upper digestive system from mouth to stomach. Esophagus goes through diaphragm to connect to stomach. Larynx (voice box) produces sound used for speaking and is also involved in swallowing. Pharynx, or throat, connects mouth to larynx and esophagus. Weak lower esophageal sphincter allows stomach acid to move up into esophagus. This may cause upper sphincter to constrict. If this happens you may feel as if you have lump in throat. Weak upper esophageal sphincter allows stomach acid to move up into throat. When this happens, larynx and pharynx can be injured.

Do you have to clear your throat or cough often? Are you hoarse? Do you have difficulty swallowing? If you have these or other throat symptoms, you may have acid reflux (when stomach acid washes up and irritates your throat).

Why You Have Throat Symptoms

At both ends of the esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach) are the esophageal sphincters. These muscles relax to let food pass, then tighten to keep stomach acid down. When the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t tighten enough, acid can reflux from the stomach into the esophagus. This may cause heartburn. If the upper esophageal sphincter (UES) also doesn’t work well, acid can travel higher and enter your throat (pharynx). In many cases, this causes throat symptoms.

Common Throat Symptoms

  • Frequent need to clear your throat

  • Feeling like you’re choking

  • Chronic cough

  • Hoarseness

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Sensation of having “a lump in the throat”

  • Sour or acid taste

  • Recurrent sore throat

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 3/14/2014
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