Mystery Coughs? May be heartburn! Top 10 Tips to Avoid Heartburn.

Heartburn – A Hidden Reason for Mystery Coughs

Common heartburn medications can increase the risk of strokes, according to a recent study reported at the American Heart Association’s annual conference. These medications – known as proton pump inhibitors – are already known to cause serious health problems like dementia and kidney failure. In my next blog I will share my top ten tips for natural remedies to use instead.

But heartburn itself can be a surprise cause for health problems, including coughs!

In my practice as a cough expert, I often have patients referred to me by other doctors because they have a “mystery cough.” Most coughs can be traced to an obvious source, like an infection in the lungs such as bronchitis or pneumonia, postnasal drip, or allergy or mold.

But sometimes the patient’s doctor just can’t find an infection or other obvious cause. Then I have to be the Sherlock Holmes and find the reason for the mystery cough. Once I find the reason, I know how to treat it.

Detective work on a cough starts with a chest X-ray. But if the X-ray is normal, then the cause most likely comes from area of our body I call the “Bridge Zone.” This is the unclaimed territory at the back of the nose and throat, behind the tongue, in the vocal cords, and even in the upper part of the windpipe. This is the area where a chronic recalcitrant cough often originates – a cough that just stubbornly resists treatment.

Many different kinds of chronic coughs start in the Bridge Zone, and they overlap most of the time. Heartburn (also called acid reflux or GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease) is one of the hidden factors.

For example, you might have asthma that gets worse from acid reflux. But you also might have plain reflux that mimics the symptoms of asthma! You could also have postnasal drip that triggers a cough, and the whole thing gets worse when you have reflux.

You might even have a “hypersensitivity cough syndrome/neurogenic cough” –diagnosed when tests for all the other lung problems come back normal. This is a persistent dry cough starting from irritated nerves, which could be irritated by acid reflux, an allergen, a viral infection, or fumes. The triggering substance makes the nerves signal the body to cough, but the cough can’t clear out something like acid reflux – so you keep on coughing!

How to tell if it’s acid reflux? The simplest way is to try some natural treatments for acid reflux. In my next blog I will share my top ten tips for avoiding heartburn without using those medications, which can have such fatal consequences.

Heartburn in the New Year? Avoid Drugs, Use These Top Ten Lifestyle Tips Instead

Proton pump inhibitors, taken by millions of Americans for acid reflux and heartburn, have just been shown to increase the risk of stroke, as I reported in a previous blog. What to do instead?

First, A good balanced diet where more vegetables and less animal proteins becomes a lifestyle. Stomach acid is normal – it helps us digest our food, it helps absorb minerals, and it kills microbes coming in to our system. That’s why medications to reduce stomach acid can contribute to muscle wasting, osteoporosis, and food-borne illnesses.

Here is my top 10 tips to treat heartburn:

  1. Allow more than three hours of digestion prior to going to sleep, and prop up your head with a pillow instead of lying flat in bed
  2. Consider raising the head of your bed about 30 degrees.
  3. Breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm – these will also strengthen that protective drawstring of muscles at the top of the stomach.
  4. Modify your diet by gradually adding more greens and fruits, and your wholesome ethnic foods the way your grandma made them, except …
  5. Eliminate the good Mexican spices, jalapeño, onion, garlic and tomatoes, plus citrus fruits and fatty foods.
  6. Avoid mint, chocolate, alcohol, and tobacco because they relax the sphincter (“drawstring”) that keeps acid out of your esophagus
  7. Drop coffee to one cup a day and run from sodas, energy drinks, Gatorade — yes, all of them, even the ones that look great in the TV commercials.
  8. Natural heartburn treatments like Esophageal Guardian by Life Extension, Heartburn Free by Enzymatic Therapy, or Gutsy Chewy chewing gum.
  9. A trial of apple cider vinegar, the old folk remedy, works for many people. 1 teaspoon in a little water before meals.
  10. Learn to hold the mouth shut to the temptations of refined grains, particularly products made from white flour. When possible substitute the whole grain: for example, brown rice instead of white rice, whole wheat bread instead of white bread and so on.


These tips are based on my experience in my practice as a cough doctor. For example, I find that patients who stop using bleached white flour can clear up their postnasal drip, allergic rhinosinusitis and asthma, because bleached flour is such a strong pro-inflammatory. These tips will give you a healthier lifestyle overall!

Dr. Ferrer has been my colleague for many years and his wealth of knowledge continues to impress me. He always strives to learn more and stay on the cutting edge in his field.”

Dr. Jeremy Robertson

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