Health Beat

Health Beat: Allergies, asthma or acid reflux?

NEW YORK - Susan Howard is a registered nurse and volunteer teacher who gradually started having trouble in front of a large class.

"I'd lose my voice and say, 'Just bear with me. I do this,'" she recalled.

Lisa Smelkinson's symptoms appeared suddenly, and they were tough to ignore.

"I remember distinctly having lunch with a friend and coming home and coughing to the point of almost vomiting," she said.

Both women were treated for months for what doctors thought were colds, allergies, or asthma until they visited Dr. Jamie Koufman, the director of the Voice Institute of New York and a clinical professor of otolaryngology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of the Mount Sinai.

"The problem with the idea that it's asthma or a cold is that the symptoms don't go away. Even after the asthma is treated they continue to have symptoms," Koufman stated.

Koufman said with silent reflux, neither the lower valve nor upper valve is working right.

"So what's in the stomach is in the esophagus, is in the throat, and it sits there at night," she said.

Koufman said if you have trouble breathing in but not out, the problem could be reflux. She said the number one risk factor is eating too much right before bed. Sleep on a 45-degree incline, leave four hours between your last meal and bed, and avoid junk food, soda and chocolate milk.

"No physician ever said to me it's dietary-related," Smelkinson said.

"I tell them you won't need me in a year," Koufman said.

For many patients, lifestyle changes help make this the last stop in a long search for better health.

Both Smelkinson and Howard said their symptoms have significantly decreased since they made dietary changes. For some patients, Koufman said certain medications called H2 antagonists like Pepcid, or Zantac are also safe and effective.


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