Extra-Oesophageal Reflux / LaryngoPharyngeal Reflux / Silent reflux

If reflux persists, it can traverse the entire column of the oesophagus and breach the upper oesophageal sphincter, a group of muscles including the cricopharyngeus that open when swallowing to permit food to enter the oesophagus rather than the trachea (windpipe).

Reflux occurring here is correctly termed extra-oesophageal reflux but is often referred to as Laryngo-Pharyngeal Reflux (LPR for short), Respiratoty Reflux or "Silent Reflux". (The term 'silent reflux' is also often applied to lower oesophageal reflux where heartburn is not experienced.)

Even if the acid has been reduced or neutralised with acid suppressants or antacids, regurgitation of stomach contents and extra-oesophageal reflux (known as Non-Erosive Reflux Disorder, or NERD) can still cause damage.

From the top of the oesophagus it enters the respiratory system where it can aspirate into the throat, lungs, mouth and nose.

Irritating the lining of the throat and bronchi, inducing the production of excess mucous, sufferers frequently have the need to clear their throats and aspiration deeper into the lungs can result in chronic cough as the lungs attempt to expel the foreign matter.

In the lungs, it can cause asthma like symptoms. It can even build up resulting in pneumonia or bronchiectasis.

Causing irritation to the voice box, it can result in hoarseness and sore throat.

Attempting to prevent extra-oesophageal reflux, the cricopharyngeus may tighten or spasm producing a feeling of a lump in the throat known as Globus.

At night, in attempting to prevent reflux, the cricopharyngeus may be responsible for restricting breathing causing obstructive sleep apnoea.

Entering the mouth, reflux produces bad taste and bad breath. It can also cause dental erosion resulting in tooth decay or sharp edges to the teeth.

From the back of the throat, refluxate can travel via the eustachian tube to the ears where it may stimulate excessive wax production. This is more common in the right ear as lying on the right side results in more reflux than lying on the left. It can also result in tinnitus and peripheral vertigo (dizziness).

Rising into the nasal chambers, excess mucous produced here can cause post nasal drip producing cough and result in the sufferer sniffing frequently to constrain it. This may also give rise to a poor sense of smell (hyposmia), a distortion of smell (parosmia) or even fool the senses to imagine smells that aren't there (phantosmia).

From the nasal passages, it can pass to the eyes via the tear ducts resulting in dry eye syndrome.

A 2014 poll of 100 reflux sufferers [r-i] revealed 70% reported experiencing Hoarseness, 64% constant throat clearing, 58% post nasal drip, 58% chronic cough, 53% sinusitis, 53% bad taste in mouth, 50% Globus (lump in throat), 42% Asthma-like symptoms (shortness of breath), 41% tooth decay or sharp edges to teeth, 35% Catarrhal symptoms (blocked nose), 35% Loss of voice, 35% dry or gritty eyes, 30% nocturnal ear waxing.

In other responses, the following symptoms were also highly indicated: Bad breath, Tinnitus, Hyposmia (poor sense of smell), Sore throat.

Following the findings of the 2014 poll, three fresh but interrelated surveys involving over 200 participants in 2017 [r-ii] rationalised the symptoms and explored the efficacy of PPIs and Anti-Reflux surgery on the management thereof.

Survey 1 targetting refluxers who didn’t use daily pre-emptive medication but who may use occasional on-demand antacids as and when required garnered 51 responses.

Throat symptoms were most commonly identified with 63% reporting hoarseness, sore throat, loss of voice or throat clearing as a symptom. 45% reported globus, 43% post nasal drip, sinusitis of catarrh, 33% bad breath or taste in mouth, 31% dry or gritty eyes, 31% ear problems: waxing, glue ear, tinnitus or dizziness, 27% chest complaints, cough orasthma like symptoms and 22% dental problems.

Survey 2 was completed by 100 refluxers using daily medication of H2 blockers or Proton Pump Inhibitors.

As with survey 1, the most prevalent reported symptom was concerned with the throat: hoarseness, sore throat, loss of voice and throat clearing reported by 66% of relfuxers with 50% reporting globus, 49% nasal problems, 48% ear problems, 46% cough, 44% oral, 42% eyes and 26% dental problems.

It is assumed those with the most prolific symptoms are the predominant users of acid suppressants (rather than PPIs actually result in higher incidence of EOR symptoms) and dosage levels seemed to make no difference.

Survey 3 targetted recipients of anti-reflux intervention. 52 responses were amassed during the collection period.

Pre intervention, 73% reported the throat issues and 58% globus with 50% reporting cough, 50% oral, 44% nasal, 35% aural, 33% eyes and 33% dental problems.

All but 2 repondees had received Nissen fundoplication, one had had Linx successfully and one had had Stretta unsuccessfully.

Post intervention, reported throat issues had been reduced to 35% oral problems 29%, globus 25%, cough 19% nasal problems 19%, eye problems 17%, ear problems 13% and dental erosion 10%.

A cumulative score of prevalence of symptoms reduced from 47% to 20% as a result of anti-reflux intervention.


In the management of symptoms of extra-oesophageal reflux, acid suppressant medication did not appear to be effective whereas reflux reduction surgery was.

For those exhibiting symptoms of extra-oesophageal reflux, reflux reduction should be considered in preference to acid reduction.

A paper published in World Journal of Gastroenterology in May 2017 "Nissen fundoplication vs proton pump inhibitors for laryngopharyngeal reflux" [r-iii] using reviews of 53 patients, also concluded: "Laparoscopic Nissen Fundoplication achieves better improvement than PPIs for LPR."