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Persistent Cough in the Morning? It Could Be GERD

Is persistent cough ruining your mood? Here’s why regular cough drops can’t get you instant relief. Hint: it’s related to your gut.

A woman coughing at her fist.

Everyone coughs, and generally, nobody worries about an occasional cough. But dealing with the hacking is never fun, whether it’s disrupting your day or keeping you up all night, particularly if it lingers. What is a persistent cough? 

A persistent cough is a chronic cough that lasts eight weeks or longer. It may be caused by different factors, including asthma, smoking, and environmental triggers like exposure to dust. 

One common cause that is less talked about is GERD cough. It’s a not-so-silent symptom of gastro-oesophagal reflux disease (GERD) that feels dry and irritating. Sounds familiar? Read on to see the tell-tale signs and tips to stop it. 

Persistent Cough and GERD: Where’s the Correlation?

Elderly Asian man holds his hand on the abdomen.
Apart from a persistent cough, GERD can cause chest and abdomen pain.

Unlike most types of cough, viruses have nothing to do with GERD-related cough. The stomach acids travel back to your food pipe, resulting in an itchy throat and hoarse voice. That’s not all. A persistent cough may come and go every time there’s too much phlegm in the body, indigestion, and disturbed qi.  

Here are clues that your persistent cough is a GERD symptom: 

  • It worsens at night and morning 
  • A burning sensation in your chest 
  • A sour taste in your mouth 
  • Pain in the upper part of the chest 
  • New or worsening asthma attacks 
  • Vomiting 

Solutions to GERD Cough

Asian woman suffers from heartburn while holding fried food.
Avoid oily, fatty and spicy foods to keep your gut and respiratory system healthy.

When it comes to treating persistent cough caused by acid reflux, there are three organs to focus on. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Physician Anita Pee explains that GERD cough is associated with imbalances in the stomach, Lungs, and Liver. Here are ways to nourish and strengthen these organs simultaneously. 

Herbal remedies 

Physician Anita recommends herbal remedies to patients who consult her for their persistent coughs. These include:  

  • Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang (沙参麦门冬汤): Helps relieve dry cough and throat pain.  
  • Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang (半夏泻心汤): Helps to moderate stress that can trigger acid reflux. 
  • Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang (香砂六君子汤): Strengthens the body, improves appetite, reduces bloating, and alleviates acid reflux. 

Acupressure

If you think your nagging cough interrupts your day, try acupressure to relieve your symptoms. Use your fingers to massage these points: 

  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里): Nourishes the Spleen and stomach, eases gastric pain and suppresses cough 
  • Nei guan (PC6, 内关): Relieves gastric-related symptoms such as heartburn, chest tightness, palpitations, and cough 
  • Zhong wan (CV12, 中脘): Helps reduce bloating, frequent burping, and acid reflux 
  • Tai chong (LV3, 太冲): Releases emotional disturbances and calms the mind  

Calming foods and drinks 

When in doubt, seek comfort from feel-good meals. Porridge made from rice, dried Chinese yam, poria, lotus seeds, and foxnut seeds can warm you up from within. Ditch the coffee and drink a cup of tea topped with rosebuds and dried orange peel to prevent a GERD attack. Say no to acid-stimulating munchies like spicy and oily foods.

Lifestyle changes 

Physician Anita advises eating smaller servings of food two to three hours before your bedtime as a start. Raise the head of your bed by six to eight inches by placing an extra pillow when you sleep. Press stop on your smoking habits to keep your lungs healthy. Last, take care of your mind and body through regular meditation and physical exercises.

The best time to curb your persistent cough is now. Combining these tips will not only help you bid farewell to an itchy throat in the morning but also keep GERD at bay. Go to your nearest TCM clinic and consult with a licensed physician to have a prescribed medication that suits your body constitution. 

Do you have other tried and tested methods to stop persistent cough? We would love to know more from you. Let us know in the comments.

References

  1. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2022. New treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease: Traditional Chinese Medicine Xiachaihu decoction [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8985483/. Accessed 18 Jan 2023 
  2. Gastroenterology. 2018. Presentation and epidemiology of gastroesophageal reflux disease. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0016508517359772. Accessed 18 Jan 2023. 
  3. Missouri Medicine. 2018. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6140167/. Accessed 18 Jan 2023 

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