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The Difference Between a COVID-19 Cough and a GERD Cough

Image of The Difference Between a COVID-19 Cough and a GERD Cough
Image of The Difference Between a COVID-19 Cough and a GERD Cough

There’s a lot to be worried about right now, and having acid reflux (or GERD) certainly doesn't make things easier. After all, if stress is one of your triggers, there’s likely never been a more stressful time in your life than living through a global coronavirus pandemic.

So we want to reassure you that you’re not alone if you’ve gone from the occasional heartburn day to experiencing symptoms all day, every day. You might even be experiencing some new symptoms, such as coughing.

Yep, that’s right, coughing is a common acid reflux symptom caused by acid rising from the esophagus and entering the respiratory tract. And we don’t have to tell you that it’s also a common symptom of COVID-19.

We can almost promise you that you’re not the only person who’s coughed more than usual recently and immediately googled “COVID-19 symptoms.” To help you figure out what’s going on, we spoke to acid reflux expert and Evens medical advisor Dr. Gil Weitzman on how to better tell if your cough is a symptom of acid reflux or could potentially be COVID-19.

What are the signs of GERD cough?

The main thing to know about GERD cough (also known as a silent reflux cough) is that it’s usually tied to food. So if your cough always shows up right after you’ve polished off a heaping portion of buffalo wings, chances are that’s what is causing it.

In addition, if it's a GERD cough, you’ve probably had it for a long time (a month or longer), and if you’ve tried antibiotics to get it to go away, they likely didn’t do anything to help.

Other characteristics of GERD cough include:

  • Creates hoarseness
  • Occurs mostly at night
  • Unrelated to smoking

Make sure to pay attention to when it’s happening. According to Dr. Weitzman, “GERD cough typically occurs at night or early in the morning and often wakes people up.”

One other thing that’s important to note is that it’s not always tied to other acid reflux symptoms, such as heartburn. It’s possible to have a cough, but feel fine otherwise.

What are the characteristics of COVID-19 cough?

The COVID-19 cough is a dry cough. Now, you’ve probably seen “dry cough” everywhere lately and might be wondering what it actually means.

A dry cough means that the cough doesn’t produce phlegm (thicker-than-normal mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract). In addition, it may feel like you have a tickle in the back of your throat.

A wet cough, on the other hand, does produce phlegm and is more often associated with viruses like colds and flu.

Why are people confusing GERD cough and COVID-19 cough?

Both GERD and COVID coughs are described as dry coughs, so it can feel hard to know what exactly is going on. However, Dr. Weitzman points out that the COVID-19 cough is “abrupt onset” and tends to also cause “difficulty breathing where you’ll feel a tightness and burning.”

The other way to determine which is which is looking at the other symptoms you’re experiencing. The CDC released a recent report that says the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of smell and/or taste
  • Muscle pain
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sore throat

It’s also important to know that not all cases of COVID-19 include a dry cough. By far the most common symptom is fever, followed by fatigue, neither of which are associated with acid reflux.

We’re living in unprecedented times right now where nothing feels certain, least of all what’s going on in our bodies. The more information you have, the easier it is to figure out your next steps.

If you’re an acid reflux sufferer, track your daily symptoms as well as your stress level, diet, and other changing lifestyle factors. Understanding the way your daily life could be affecting your symptoms can help to alleviate some of your worries.

And of course, if you’re concerned about any symptoms that could point to COVID-19, get in touch with a doctor so that you find out the next best steps for you.

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Photo courtesy of Jonas Leupe, Unsplash