For many people with acid reflux, the path to diagnosis can be long and painful, especially when the symptoms aren’t the typical heartburn and regurgitation. In this article, one woman shares the story of how her constant throat clearing led to an acid reflux diagnosis and offers advice about what to do when multiple doctors are telling you different things.
“I thought I was suffocating.”
One night after dinner, Carole went to read in bed, and she propped her head up with pillows as people commonly do. Suddenly her throat filled with phlegm. It was so thick that she began to panic. No matter how hard she coughed she could not clear it out. She called for her husband and told him that she was “suffocating”. They headed straight to the emergency room. By the time they arrived at the hospital, Carole’s blood pressure was so high that doctors there first had to calm her down by assuring her that they would not allow her to ‘suffocate”.
Carole, 73, recounted the details of that frightful night to RefluxMD. It was four years ago, but Carole has been living with this “clearing” problem for almost 20 years. It has been a dilemma for Carole who wonders why “no one has ever been able to tell me what is coming up in my throat and why I have to keep clearing.”
Searching for a diagnosis…
What her allergist said
Carole, an active person and avid golfer, started experiencing a need for constant throat clearing in middle age. “I had to clear my throat all the time. I always had a feeling that there was something in my throat.” At first she thought it was allergies so she went to see an allergist, who found that she was allergic to “dust” and all “greenery”. He prescribed a tablet that “seemed to work for me for a while, but it was taken off the market.” After that, none of the other allergy medicines she tried gave her any relief.
What her ENT said
So her next stop was an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. The ENT doctor told her that she had a “sinus problem” and prescribed various methods to deal with sinus drainage. Again, nothing worked.
What her primary care doctor said
So then she went to her primary care doctor who told her that she had acid reflux. He prescribed the proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) Prilosec and Nexium. These didn’t work for her either.
…And still not finding relief
Eventually Carole’s throat became so irritated that she could not swallow. To correct her worsening swallowing problem, doctors had to twice do a procedure to stretch her esophagus. She then had an endoscopy and everything looked normal. At some point, she talked with yet another doctor about the possibility of having surgery. The doctor was unsure, and told her that the surgery itself might lead to even more complications. Since that didn’t sound promising, Carole did not pursue the surgery option, and continued to deal with the status quo of her condition without much relief.
Identifying her triggers and finally feeling better
Most recently, Carole saw a Gastroenterologist and was advised to write down “everything she eats”. This process led her to find out that she needed to avoid certain foods. She said that when she eliminates dairy, citrus and all things caffeinated including chocolate, she feels better. But she finds it especially hard to resist the fresh squeezed orange juice from her backyard tree in Southern California. “I used to have fresh juice every morning.”
The GI doctor has her taking two pills a day of Dexilant, which she seems unsure about. “The medicine is very strong, and I don’t think it works too well. I think the most important thing I do to control my constant throat clearing problem is dietary, by staying away from certain foods.” Carole has concerns about the Dexilant, but she feels she needs to keep taking it daily. “I want to keep things under control because it is so hard getting back to feeling good.”
What’s next for Carole
Recently Carole read RefluxMD’s article written by Dr. Dengler titled The importance of accurately diagnosing acid reflux. She wrote to RefluxMD saying, “A big “thank you” for this interesting and relevant information. I will certainly pursue achalasia and the esophageal manometry test with my GI.” After seeing countless physicians, Carole has also learned the importance of high quality information and the value of scheduling an appointment with an expert. She has promised to check back with RefluxMD and we will continue to report on her progress. Thank you for sharing your story, Carole!