Lots of kids and adults alike find themselves sniffling and blowing their nose more often this time of year due to seasonal allergies. But sometimes, these symptoms may be caused by something else entirely, according to a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Dr. Karen Zur, an ear, nose and throat specialist at CHOP, said a form of acid reflux can be responsible for a host of respiratory ailments, including allergies, that are often misdiagnosed. Zur co-authored a new book that calls attention to this kind of “respiratory reflux” in children and recommends a low-acid diet to clear up the breathing problems that can result from it.
Many people think of acid reflux as synonymous with heartburn. But the acidic content of our stomachs can be spewed up past the esophagus and higher up into the respiratory system without causing that familiar burning sensation. This is sometimes called “silent reflux,” and Zur said children who have it have often already been diagnosed with another condition.
“After a thorough history from them and an examination, you can determine that maybe it’s not allergies, maybe they don’t need to be on all these medicines, maybe we need to address some of their eating habits,” Zur said.
When reflux reaches the respiratory system, it can cause congestion and breathing problems that, when chronic, might at first appear to be asthma or a lingering infection. Adults are prone to respiratory reflux too, but Zur said the condition can begin during infancy.
She wants more doctors to become aware that acid reflux can be implicated in respiratory issues, and she recommends they give careful consideration to what their pediatric patients eat.
“What do they do on weekends and what do they eat at birthday parties? It takes time to do that, but you can really screen for patients that are having these types of issues,” Zur said.
Zur’s book, “Acid Reflux in Children: How Healthy Eating Can Fix Your Child’s Asthma, Allergies, Obesity, Nasal Congestion, Cough & Croup,” details the dietary choices that she said can help relieve the condition. Some of the high-acid foods and beverages she says to avoid, such as sugary sodas, many health-minded eaters already eschew. But other culprits are less obvious. For instance, Zur said applesauce, considered a relatively healthy snack for kids, is actually very acidic. She tested canned baby foods for the book and found that they also had acidic pH levels.
“One of the reasons for that is that the FDA [requires] acidifying foods that have a long shelf life so we don’t get bacterial contamination and infections,” Zur said.
She recommends parents prepare their own mushy baby food at home, since the extra acidity is added during the packaging.