The impact of extra-esophageal reflux upon diseases of the upper respiratory tract

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Purpose of review

The present paper examines the recent literature on extra-esophageal reflux and discusses how it affects patient testing and treatment of upper respiratory track inflammatory disease.

Recent findings

Assays for pepsin have been developed casting more insight into the pathophysiology of extra-esophageal reflux as well as looking at the role of protective factors in upper respiratory mucosa. Similarities and differences in esophageal and extra-esophageal reflux continue to be explored. Acid suppression in extra-esophageal reflux improves symptoms before physical findings, but some patients do not respond. Mildly acidic (pH > 4) and alkaline reflux are being examined more in extra-esophageal reflux with impedance testing playing a more prominent role. Recent studies have also focused on whether extra-esophageal reflux could affect tissues of the nasopharynx, sinuses, or middle ear. Caution has been issued as acid suppressive therapies have been associated with hip fracture in older patients.


Symptoms caused by reflux may reflect underlying weaknesses in mucosal resilience to acid and pepsin in addition to the variations in exposure to gastric contents. In some patients mildly acidic or alkaline reflux may be important and gastric contents may reach the nasopharynx or middle ear. Carefully designed placebo-controlled trials are needed.

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