What is Aspiration?
Aspiration is the inhalation of fluids, usually referring to stomach fluids which have come up into the esophagus and throat. Aspiration can cause many serious diseases, including pneumonia, and the most dire circumstances result is choking and even death. When a patient is unconscious or sleeping, it is possible to inhale stomach fluid or vomit that is present in the mouth. If you have a friend who is unconscious and vomiting, immediately call 911, as they could die if they do not get treatment immediately.
Aspiration due to GERD
Many GERD patients experience frequent regurgitation and burping as symptoms. While this may seem generally harmless, when this happens to a person who is sleeping it can be dangerous. Even a small amount of liquid present in the throat and lungs can give the sensation of drowning. GERD patients who regularly experience chest pain during the night are likely to also experience regurgitation in their sleep.
The result is often very scary. Patients describe waking up coughing and being unable to breath clearly and freely. Often it takes a lot of coughing before the sensation subsides and by then the patient is usually too uncomfortable to sleep again easily. This disruptive and frightening experience only worsens the overall experience of having GERD.
GERD Treatments for Aspiration
While many doctors will recommend taking medications for GERD, it is likely that the medications will do nothing to decrease the amount of fluid that moves up the esophagus. Some medications for GERD lower the acidity of the stomach by stopping the stomach from producing stomach acid. While this is thought to help the esophagus, as it is the acidity of stomach contents which damage the esophagus over time, the acidity of the stomach contents that move up into the mouth does not matter when it comes to aspiration.
There are a number of steps you can take to help your body avoid aspiration due to GERD, and may help cure GERD in the long term. If you experience aspiration at night, it is likely due to the fact that your lower esophageal sphincter is not able to keep stomach contents in the stomach. Understanding what is going wrong is the first step towards fixing the problem.
Hopefully your doctor has recommended that you eat dinner at least three hours before bedtime. This should be a serious commitment for you if you experience GERD at night. Filling the stomach right before lying down will put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. The contents of the stomach will literally slosh against the opening to the esophagus. Stay upright until the food you have eaten has been digested and moved along to the intestines. If you find you are hungry before bed, try eating an apple about 30 minutes before brushing your teeth or have some toast with just a little bit of butter. This will help you to adjust to your new schedule. Dry bread may also help soak up some of the stomach fluids, but be wary of putting too much in your stomach as there is only so much your stomach can deal with before you go to bed.
Additionally, consider getting a bed wedge and sleeping on your left side. These are things that have helped many people with GERD. The bed wedge will help keep your body from being inverted, and keeps the stomach contents towards the bottom of the stomach. The entrance to the stomach is slanted in one direction, and sleeping on your left side will help keep that entrance from being pushed downward.
If you experience GERD, you need to closely look at the way you eat. Your doctor may not say that GERD is caused by poor diet and being over weight, because there is no specific study to say that that is true. However, being over weight, eating poorly, and not getting enough exercise all put you at a much higher risk of getting GERD. In other words, people who are over weight get GERD more often than people who eat well and exercise regularly.
If you want to stop experiencing GERD or have had a scary experience with night time GERD aspiration, it is time to make a dietary commitment to yourself. GERD may be caused by highly acidic stomach contents due to eating too many fatty, sugary, and highly processed foods. These kinds of foods are hard for the stomach to digest, and as a result the stomach produces higher levels of acid to attempt to break down the food you eat. These high levels of acid can do serious damage to the esophagus and cause a lot of pain and discomfort.
However, it is just as important to ensure that there is enough acid in the stomach for proper digestion. GERD patients are often encouraged to stop eating acidic foods and to take medications that decrease the amount of acid produced for the stomach. Many cases of GERD are actually caused by a lack of acid. The lower esophageal sphincter may detect that not enough acid is present for digestion and will not close off the stomach until the appropriate acidity levels are reached. If you feel you have tried everything and nothing works, find out the acidity of your stomach and try methods used by people whose stomach can no longer produce sufficient acid for digestion. These methods include taking small amounts of apple cider vinegar daily, in salad dressing or on its own. Some people find that eating an apple a day can relieve their symptoms of GERD. The apple is thought to contain the right kind of acid, acid that sends the message to the stomach that there is enough acid already. Acids from apples may actually help digestion.
Do not wait for your doctor to recommend surgery or another medication, talk to your doctor now about testing stomach acidity and finding out about alternative treatments for GERD aspiration and other symptoms.