Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) occurs when stomach acid back-flows into the food channel (oesophagus) and into the throat and voice box (larynx).
There are two sphincter muscles in the oesophagus – the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) and upper oesophageal sphincter (UES).
The LES is a muscle that prevents back-flow of food and acid from the stomach into the oesophagus. The UES is a muscle that prevents food and acid in the oesophagus from back-flowing into the larynx. When the LES is weak and does not close tightly, you will have gastrooesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
If acid (and digestive enzymes) from the stomach back-flows into the larynx, you will have laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).
A diagnosis of LPR is achieved with a combination of detailed history, physical examination and occasionally some tests. Procedures that may be performed to diagnose this condition include:
A thin scope with a camera attached at the end of it is passed through the nose down to the level of the voice box in the throat under local anaesthesia.
An X-ray test in which you swallow a dye and serial X-rays are taken to assess the flow of dye from oesophagus. to stomach. The dye will line the cavity of the oesophagus and stomach and allow detection of large growths. The serial X-rays can also detect refl ux of the dye into the oesophagus.
This procedure is used to evaluate the amount of stomach acid that back-fl ows into the esophagus and larynx. Two pH sensors (sensors that measure acidity of gastric contents) are used. One is located at the lower end of the oesophagus just above the LES and the other at the upper oesophagus or just above the UES.
These procedures involve passage of a scope through the mouth or nose, into the oesophagus and stomach. In transnasal oesophagoscopy the scope can be passed through the nose with minimal discomfort and no sedation.
It allows visualisation of infl ammation of the oesophagus due to acid reflux, hiatus hernia which may indicate a weak LES and also abnormal growths in the oesophagus and stomach. A sample can be taken (biopsy) if necessary to exclude cancer or infection.
The treatment of LPR is essentially similar to the treatment of gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD). It consists of lifestyle modifications, dietary modifications, anti-acid medication, and rarely surgery.
1. Lifestyle modifications
Eat smaller, more frequent meals. A large meal will expand your stomach and increase upward pressure against the oesophageal sphincter.
Limit your intake of acid-stimulating foods and beverages. Refer to dietary modifications outlined on the following page.
Do not lie down for three hours after you eat. Lying flat makes it easier for the stomach contents to enter the oesophagus. When sleeping it sometimes helps to have the head higher than the stomach. This can be achieved by raising the head of the bed or using a mattress wedge.
Maintain a reasonable weight. Being overweight increases the pressure in the abdomen which can push the stomach contents against the LES.
Do not smoke. Nicotine in cigarettes relaxes the oesophageal sphincter. Smoking also stimulates production of stomach acid.
Do not wear tight clothing or belt around the waist. This can squeeze the stomach, forcing its contents into the oesophagus.
2. Dietary modifications
Avoid or reduce intake of spicy and ‘heaty’ foods such as chilli, peanuts and chocolate. Fried foods, oily foods and sugary foods like ice-cream should also be avoided. Drinks such as orange and grapefruit juice, fizzy drinks, milkshake, coffee, tea and alcohol can also worsen reflux and should be avoided.
Medications can help reduce acid production in the stomach, promote gastric emptying, or protect the oesophagus lining from injury.
Medications to reduce acid production include proton pump inhibitors (e.g. omeprazole) and histamine receptor agonists (e.g. ranitidine). Prokinetic agents such as domperidone can also be prescribed to promote gastric emptying, and help clear acid from the stomach. Antacids such as Gaviscon can create a protective layer that shields the oesophagus from injury by stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
4. Surgery to prevent reflux
Surgery may be indicated in severe LPR that does not respond to maximal medical therapy and lifestyle/ dietary modification. The surgery is performed to tighten the junction between stomach and esophagus. The procedure known as Nissen Fundoplication involves wrapping the top part of the stomach around the junction between stomach and esophagus and securing it in place.