Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD or acid reflux, is a condition in which the liquid content of the stomach backs up, or refluxes, into the esophagus. The liquid can inflame and damage the lining of the esophagus and cause pain or discomfort in the stomach, chest or throat. Occasionally, reflux may also result in a dry cough. Fortunately, there are ways to relieve a cough caused by acid reflux without turning to medication.
Reflux is more likely to occur when you are lying down, since gravity is not opposing the reflux. Additionally, the lack of gravity allows the refluxed liquid to travel farther up the esophagus and remain in the esophagus longer, causing a cough. Symptoms can be relieved by elevating the upper body in bed by putting blocks under the bed's feet at the head of the bed, or by sleeping with the upper body on a wedge. These tricks keep the esophagus above the stomach and partially restore the effects of gravity. Be sure to elevate the whole upper body, and not just the head.
Certain foods aggravate symptoms of GERD and should therefore be avoided. These foods include fatty or fried foods, spearmint or peppermint, oils, whole milk, creamed foods or soups, and chocolate. Good food choices include low-fat dairy products, apples, melons and berries, low-fat meat and poultry, and low-fat breads and grains. Also, eliminate beverages that will irritate your stomach, including coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages, and citrus juices, including orange and grapefruit. Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of two or three large ones.
Making other simple lifestyle changes will help prevent a cough caused by a GERD flare-up. If you are overweight, get as close to a healthy weight as possible. Extra weight causes added pressure on your stomach, which can irritate symptoms. Avoid chewing gum or sucking hard candy, which increases the amount of swallowed air, aggravating your condition. Wear loose-fitting clothing and try not to bend after eating. Stop using tobacco in any form. Smoking relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter, which lets stomach acid leak into your esophagus, causing pain and coughing.