Can Acid Reflux Cause a Cough With Mucus Vector

Can Acid Reflux Cause a Cough With Mucus? (2024)

by | Updated: May 29, 2024

Acid reflux, a condition characterized by the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus, is often associated with symptoms like heartburn and regurgitation.

However, it may also manifest in less obvious ways, such as causing a persistent cough with mucus. While coughing is a common symptom of many respiratory conditions, its connection to acid reflux is often overlooked or misunderstood.

This article breaks down the relationship between acid reflux and coughing with mucus, shedding light on how this gastrointestinal issue can impact respiratory health.

Can Acid Reflux Cause a Cough With Mucus?

Yes, acid reflux can cause a cough with mucus. This happens when stomach acid backs up into the throat or larynx, irritating the lining and triggering coughing. The body may produce mucus as a protective response to coat and protect the respiratory tract from the irritating stomach acids.

Acid reflux GERD illustration

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a condition in which stomach acid and sometimes bile flow back into the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and stomach.

This backwash (reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, and discomfort.

When acid reflux symptoms occur more than twice a week, it can be diagnosed as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), a more chronic and severe form of acid reflux.

What is Mucus?

Mucus is a slippery, sticky, gel-like substance produced by mucous membranes in the body.

It plays several crucial roles, including moistening and protecting the lining of many organs and structures in the body, such as the lungs, throat, nose, and digestive tract.

Mucus traps and eliminates foreign particles and pathogens, like bacteria and viruses, to prevent infection. It also helps to lubricate surfaces to ease food passage through the esophagus and maintain tissue hydration.

The composition of mucus can change in response to illness, environmental factors, and the presence of irritants, potentially becoming thicker or more abundant.

How to Get Rid of Mucus Caused by Acid Reflux

To manage and reduce mucus production caused by acid reflux, consider the following strategies:

  • Dietary Adjustments: Avoid foods and beverages that trigger acid reflux, such as spicy foods, fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can also help.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help thin the mucus, making it easier to expel.
  • Elevate the Head of Your Bed: Sleeping with the head of your bed elevated can prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus during the night.
  • Chew Gum: Chewing sugar-free gum can increase saliva production, which can help neutralize stomach acid and reduce symptoms.
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking can exacerbate acid reflux and mucus production. Quitting smoking can significantly improve symptoms.
  • Avoid Late Meals: Eating close to bedtime can trigger acid reflux. Try to finish meals at least two to three hours before lying down.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: Antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors can reduce stomach acid production and relieve symptoms.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess weight can put pressure on the abdomen, pushing stomach contents into the esophagus. Losing weight can reduce this pressure and symptoms.
  • Wear Loose-Fitting Clothes: Tight clothing can squeeze your stomach area and push acid up into your esophagus, worsening symptoms.
  • Consult a Doctor: If symptoms persist, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional. They can diagnose the condition and recommend prescription medications or other treatments.

Note: Implementing these strategies can help manage acid reflux and reduce associated mucus production.

Acid Reflux vs. Postnasal Drip

Acid reflux and postnasal drip are two distinct conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as a sore throat and cough, but they originate from different causes and mechanisms.

Acid Reflux involves the backward flow of stomach acids into the esophagus, leading to symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, and a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.

In some cases, acid reflux can cause or exacerbate respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing, due to the irritation of the esophagus or throat, or even aspiration of acidic contents into the lungs. It is primarily related to the digestive system.

Postnasal Drip, on the other hand, occurs when excess mucus from the nasal cavities drips down the back of the throat. This can lead to symptoms such as coughing, throat clearing, a sore throat, and bad breath.

Postnasal drip can be caused by various factors, including allergies, colds, flu, sinus infections, or changes in weather. It is primarily related to the respiratory system and nasal passages.

Key Differences

  • Origin: Acid reflux is a digestive issue, while postnasal drip is related to the respiratory system and nasal passages.
  • Causes: Acid reflux is caused by the malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach acid to escape into the esophagus. Postnasal drip is caused by excessive mucus production in the nasal passages, often due to allergies, infections, or environmental irritants.
  • Symptoms: Both can cause throat discomfort and coughing, but acid reflux is more likely to include heartburn and a sour taste in the mouth, while postnasal drip often involves symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, and a need to clear the throat frequently.


  • Acid reflux: Treatments focus on reducing stomach acid, improving gut motility, and lifestyle changes to prevent reflux.
  • Postnasal drip: Treatments aim to address the underlying cause, such as allergies or infections, and may include nasal sprays, antihistamines, decongestants, and avoiding irritants.

Note: Understanding the distinctions between these conditions is crucial for effective treatment and relief of symptoms.

FAQs About Acid Reflux and Coughing Up Mucus

How Do I Know If My Cough is From Acid Reflux?

To determine if your cough is from acid reflux, look for accompanying symptoms such as heartburn, a sour or bitter taste in your mouth, regurgitation, and discomfort in the chest or throat after eating.

A cough from acid reflux often worsens at night or when lying down. If these symptoms are present alongside your cough, it’s likely related to acid reflux.

What Does a GERD Cough Sound Like?

A GERD cough can be chronic, dry, and persistent. It doesn’t typically produce mucus unless there is a concurrent respiratory condition. This cough often worsens at night, after meals, or when lying down.

It may also be accompanied by other GERD symptoms, such as heartburn and regurgitation.

How Do I Know if it’s Acid Reflux or Postnasal Drip?

Distinguishing between a cough caused by acid reflux and one caused by postnasal drip involves observing specific symptoms. For acid reflux, symptoms include heartburn, chest pain, and a sour taste in the mouth.

For postnasal drip, symptoms include a sensation of mucus trickling down the back of the throat, frequent throat clearing, nasal congestion, and sneezing. Understanding these symptoms can help identify the underlying cause of your cough.

How Do You Clear Mucus From Your Esophagus?

Clearing mucus from your esophagus involves several strategies:

  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids helps thin the mucus, making it easier to swallow and clear.
  • Gargle with Salt Water: Gargling with a saltwater solution can help soothe the throat and loosen mucus.
  • Eat Foods That Reduce Mucus: Certain foods, like pineapple, ginger, and honey, can naturally reduce mucus production.
  • Avoid Foods That Increase Mucus: Dairy products, certain fats, and sugary foods can increase mucus production for some people.
  • Use a Humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can help prevent mucus from becoming thick and sticky.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter medications like antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors can reduce acid reflux symptoms, thereby reducing mucus production caused by irritation.

When to See a Doctor for Acid Reflux and Coughing Up Mucus?

You should see a doctor for acid reflux and coughing up mucus if:

  • Symptoms Persist: If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications do not improve symptoms.
  • Symptoms Worsen: If you experience worsening symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, or persistent vomiting.
  • Experiencing Severe Symptoms: Such as chest pain that feels like a heart attack or severe breathing problems.
  • Coughing Up Blood: If there is blood in the mucus.
  • Chronic Cough: A cough that lasts more than a few weeks.

Note: A healthcare professional can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

Final Thoughts

Acid reflux can indeed cause a cough with mucus, albeit indirectly. Understanding the potential link between these two seemingly unrelated conditions is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management.

By recognizing the role of acid reflux in respiratory symptoms, individuals can take proactive steps to address both the underlying gastrointestinal issue and the associated cough, leading to improved overall health and well-being.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.