Your stomach is filled with acid. Its purpose is to help digest the food you eat. Believe it or not, this acid is as strong as battery acid. Your stomach is built to handle it. Your esophagus is not. When acid backs up into your esophagus, it can cause the burning sensation known as heartburn. Almost everyone has occasional heartburn. But if these symptoms occur two or more days a week for at least three months, you may have acid reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve separating the esophagus and stomach) does not close properly, allowing acid to back up into the esophagus. In short, acid reflux disease is chronic heartburn.
A gastroenterologist, a specialist in treating gastrointestinal orders, will often provide initial treatment for GERD. But there are ear, nose, and throat problems that are either caused by or associated with GERD, such as hoarseness, laryngeal (singers) nodules, croup, airway stenosis (narrowing), swallowing difficulties, throat pain, and sinus infections. These problems require an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist). They treat many of the complications of GERD, including: sinus and ear infections, throat and laryngeal inflammation and lesions, as well as a change in the esophageal lining called Barrett’s esophagus, which is a serious complication that can lead to cancer.
Most people with GERD respond favorably to a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. On occasion, surgery is recommended. Medications that could be prescribed include antacids, histamine antagonists, proton pump inhibitors, pro-motility drugs, and foam barrier medications. Some of these products are now available over-the-counter and do not require a prescription.