Stress and obesity are all common conditions that may raise your risks of experiencing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but there’s another common risk factor that many people don’t realize: your breath.
How you breathe (or don’t breathe) not only influences your acid reflux risks, but your breath can also play a crucial role in managing your acid reflux symptoms if you already have gastroesophageal reflux disease.
For example, there’s a strong link between asthma and acid reflux. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, one in 12 adults have asthma and this rate is growing more and more.
While asthma is serious on its own, statistics show that if you have asthma, you are twice as likely to experience acid reflux compared to the general population. And research published in the Gastroenterology & Hepatology medical journal notes that up to 80% of people with asthma also have acid reflux. This may be because acid reflux irritates your throat and airways, which may trigger an asthma attack.
If breath and breathing plays a role in acid reflux risks and management, looking at ways to improve your breath can be life changing for acid reflux sufferers.
Not exhaling or inhaling fully, or breathing too quickly (also known as hyperventilation), have all been linked to reduced lower esophageal sphincter functioning, warns research in the American Journal of Physiology.
And a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology noted that deep abdominal breathing, as opposed to shallow breathing just from your chest, had a positive effect on acid reflux disease. To do abdominal breathing, also known as belly breathing, focus on inhaling deeply while fully expanding your abdomen, then contract your core to exhale fully.
Bending deeply in a yoga posture or leaning forward on an exercise machine all put pressure on your abdomen and lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle that is responsible for stopping stomach acid from flowing up into your esophagus and creating heartburn). By avoiding these postures, which also helps you to breathe more deeply, you balance out your abdominal pressure and take stress off of the sphincter, thus reducing your risks of experiencing acid reflux.
Check your local city’s air pollution levels before stepping outdoors. Many cities publish this information on their air quality webpage. Airborne pollutants can trigger an asthma attack and therefore an acid reflux attack. If pollutants are high today, consider staying indoors as much as possible.
You may also want to consider avoiding airborne allergens, such as dust and pollen, if you are allergic to these. Pollen reports are also often published by local municipalities. Sneezing, coughing and shortness of breath can trigger acid reflux.
And finally, if you are currently a smoker, having acid reflux may be just the encouragement you need to kick the habit.
A study in the medical journal Gut notes that smoking cigarettes is linked with acid reflux. The report notes that smoking is linked to GERD by “directly provoking acid reflux and perhaps by a long-lasting reduction of lower oesophageal sphincter pressure.”
By breathing deeply and making lifestyle changes that enhance your ability to breathe, you can use your breath as one of many acid reflux management strategies.