What is Silent Reflux?
Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR), also known as silent reflux, is acid reflux that does not produce heartburn or indigestion. Because these hallmark symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) are absent, or “silent” so to speak, many people don’t realize they are suffering from reflux. Often overlooked or misdiagnosed, silent GERD affects millions of people every year, and all of them are at risk for cancer if it goes untreated.
How is Silent Reflux different from GERD?
The esophagus is the food passage that leads from the throat to the stomach. At either end of the esophagus is a ring of muscle called a sphincter. Normally, these sphincters keep the contents of the stomach (including food and the acid that helps digest it) in the stomach.
With Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) , the lower sphincter does not work properly. This allows stomach acid to back up into the chest (causing the tell-tale sign of heartburn), but the properly functioning upper sphincter does not allow it to enter the throat. With LPR or silent GERD, neither sphincter works correctly and the backflow of stomach acid and digestive enzymes (pepsin) can wreak havoc on the esophagus, as well as the ears, nose, throat, vocal cords, sinuses, mouth and lungs.
Risks of Silent Reflux
Stomach acid that pools in the throat and larynx (voice box) can cause long-term irritation and damage, and without treatment it can lead to serious problems. In adults, silent reflux can scar the throat and voice box and increase the risk for cancer in the area. The lungs can also be affected, and it may aggravate existing conditions such as bronchitis, asthma or emphysema.