If you struggle to have a glass of wine (or three) or chow down at a tailgate without feeling super uncomfortable hours later, you may be suffering from acid reflux and not even know it. Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus — the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. Glands in your stomach lining make acid and enzymes that help break down food, and it's this mix of remaining food liquid and stomach acid that's backfilling.
"Acid reflux typically feels like a burning sensation under your chest, and some people may get a sour taste in their mouth," Marvin Singh, MD, an integrative gastroenterologist and voluntary assistant clinical professor at the University of California San Diego's Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, told POPSUGAR. "Oftentimes, people will have symptoms of reflux after eating particular foods or heavy meals, or when they bend over after eating or lie flat at night."
Aside from the classic signs, there are some other less common symptoms that may point to an acid problem, according to Dr. Singh. These include:
- A dry cough that acts up after eating, particularly if you don't have any other respiratory issues.
- Difficulty swallowing, which may be from an esophagus spasm resulting from reflux but could also point to something more serious. Dr. Singh recommends seeing a doctor immediately if this is an issue for you.
- Asthma flare-ups at night, which could be a result of aspirating small amounts of acid into your lungs.
- More cavities than normal, thanks to acid-induced erosion of the enamel on your teeth.
- A persistent scratchy throat or hoarseness from acid making its way up past the esophagus to the throat, causing irritation of the vocal cords.
Whether you have the tell-tale red flags of acid reflux or some of the more head-scratching symptoms above, there are steps you can take to find relief. Before you do anything else, Dr. Singh suggests seeing a physician. Talking to your doctor and running tests will help rule out diseases like Barrett's esophagus (a precancerous change in the lining of the esophagus that can occur as a result of acid reflux) or cardiac chest pain (which can often feel similar to reflux).
Once you've ruled those out, look at your lifestyle and particularly your diet. Dr. Singh recommends not overeating, fasting two to three hours before you go to sleep, avoiding trigger foods (alcohol, sugar, caffeine, tomato sauce, citrus, and spicy and fatty foods, to name a few), stocking up on organic fruits and veggies, and maintaining a healthy weight. OTC meds such as Tums are also helpful — just don't use them as a permanent fix or take them for a long period of time without telling your doctor. "You could be covering up an important symptom or problem," Dr. Singh said.