10 Strange Acid Reflux Symptoms, According To Doctors



Acid reflux is a very common (but also often very annoying or distressing) medical problem that can make your life miserable at times. It may make it feel like your heart or stomach is literally on fire.

Though almost everyone experiences acid reflux at some point in their lives, it may actually be responsible for more health issues or nagging conditions than you may realize. Understanding the signs and symptoms of acid reflux – including lesser-known ones – can help you work with your doctor to find solutions (and rule out potentially serious issues like heart disease).

So, what are some of the weird or unexpected signs of acid reflux? Here's everything you need to know.

What is acid reflux?

First, what is acid reflux, exactly? “Acid reflux occurs when the pressure below the chest in the stomach is higher than the pressure of the valve between the stomach and the food pipe (esophagus),” says Dr. Mark Pimentel, MD, an associate professor of medicine and executive director of the Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) program at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. “The most common cause of reflux is a weakening of this valve. But it can also happen when people are overweight. That extra weight puts even more pressure on the stomach and pushes acid up into the chest.”

Dr. Vincent M. Pedre III, MD, FMCP, says acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition that affects up to 20 percent of the American population. Some sources put the estimate of people affected by acid reflux even higher.

A 2024 study found that eating a ton of sweets or desserts, alcohol consumption, smoking and weight were among GERD risk factors.

Related: If Your Poop Looks Like This, It's Time to See a Doctor

Is acid reflux dangerous?

Acid reflux can be more serious than you might think. “This condition is often dismissed as mild digestive discomfort, but the truth is that GERD can cause a fair amount of pain, and if left untreated, serious damage to the esophagus,” Dr. Pedre says.

Dr. Pimentel echoed these sentiments and added another reason to flag acid reflux with a healthcare provider.

“Some people are surprised at how severe the symptoms of acid reflux are. These can be debilitating,” says Dr. Pimentel. “Another important point is that reflux can be confused with chest pain from the heart. It is important to ask your doctor about the symptoms you are feeling so there is no confusion.”

Acid reflux symptoms vary and may be surprising

Dr. David J. Levinthal, MD, PhD, the director of the UPMC Neurogastroenterology and Motility Center, says there’s a common perception of what acid reflux looks or feels like, which may not always be accurate. “Most people imagine that the symptoms of acid reflux require the experience of 'heartburn,' or a burning sensation in the middle or lower portion of the chest, or a feeling of regurgitation of material up into the chest,” says Dr. Levinthal. “However, not everyone experiences such classic symptoms of GERD. Some individuals experience 'extra-esophageal manifestations' of GERD and these symptoms may not be recognized as being GERD-related.”

Understanding that acid reflux can feel differently for everyone – even you — can help you reduce (or banish) this icky issue.

"In my clinic, I often see patients with atypical presentations of acid reflux that can improve with acid reflux treatment," says HealthCentral's gastroenterologist Dr. David Padua, MD.

Strange or surprising symptoms of acid reflux

1. Chronic cough

Think coughs are limited to colds and allergies? Think again.

“While coughs can arise from many causes, acid reflux can occasionally result in a chronic cough because the acid travels up the chest and can irritate the back of the throat resulting in patients coughing to clear the secretions,” Dr. Padua says.

Related: Feel Like You Can't Shake That Cold? Here Are 5 Signs That It's Actually Getting Better

2. A “clogged” throat

Throat issues aren't only related to infections, either.

“Another common complaint is a globus sensation which feels like a constant irritation in the back of the throat,” Dr. Padua says. “Some patients describe this as a ‘frog in the back of their throat.’ Again, the acid travels up the esophagus and results in irritations of the esophageal lining.”

3. Difficulty swallowing

Dr. Padua says acid can often cause dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, and one of his colleagues agreed. “Persistent acid reflux over time can cause inflammation within the esophagus,” says Dr. Mona Rezapour, MDa HealthCentral gastroenterologist and medical reviewer. “That inflammation if not treated can lead to narrowing or strictures called Peptic strictures. These narrowing are a consequence of persistent inflammation.”

4. Breathing issues

Breathing issues can be a flag for "Silent reflux," known clinically as Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). However, the breathing-related problems can feel anything but silent.

“Known as ‘Silent Reflux,’ Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) can cause shortness of breath, make asthma worse or even cause chest pains,” Dr. Pedre says. “You might think to look to the lungs for treatment, but the symptoms can have their source in the gut. Stomach acid in the lungs aggravates breathing issues due to swollen airways."

Further complicating the issue is that acid reflux can make symptoms of asthma worse and asthma medication can make acid reflux worse. Dr. Pedre notes that GERD affects a significant segment of all patients with asthma and “patients are frequently given recurring courses of antibiotics for bronchial infections, wherein it impacts the gut and makes for a vicious cycle.”

5. Skin issues

Dr. Pedre says a wide range of skin conditions, including acne and eczema, can be tied to acid reflux and your general gut health. The acid issues in your gut often show up as allergies or inflammation affecting your skin. He notes that the majority of his patients with gut health issues are also plagued by skin conditions.

Related: Dealing With Annoying Pimples on Your Chest? Here Are the Top Causes of Chest Acne—and What to Do About It

6. Nausea

“Many patients experience nausea or a queasy feeling that can be associated with acid reflux,” Dr. Padua says. “The acid can build up in the stomach and results in inflammation of the stomach lining also known as gastritis and results in nausea. Most of these symptoms are managed with anti-reflux medications like proton pump inhibitors or antihistamine receptor medications.”

7. Hoarse, raspy voice

Dr. Pimentel says hoarseness can occur “as a result of acid coming all the way up and affecting the vocal cords or even dripping into the airway (into the lungs).”

8. Foods not tasting right

Dr. Levinthal says an altered sense of taste can be caused by GERD-mediated nerve irritation, which is also the culprit behind many of the other strange acid reflux symptoms.

9. Runny nose

While many people with acid reflux may mistakenly assume they simply have a cold when their nose starts running, Dr. Levinthal says this is another symptom that can be caused by GERD-related nerve irritation.

10. Frequent burping

Excessive burping, frequently right after a meal, can indicate acid reflux due to the irritated esophagus lining, says Dr. Pedre, who adds that, contrary to popular belief, many of the throat-related GERD symptoms are not due to excess acid production, but instead “are actually a sign of low stomach acid and inadequate protein digestion, allowing stomach contents to overflow into the esophagus.”

Dietary changes can help with acid reflux symptoms

The good news: Making changes to your diet can help lessen or perhaps even eliminate many common symptoms of acid reflux. The bad news: this may mean giving up some of your favorite foods.

“Typical food culprits include coffee, citrus fruits, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, mints, chocolates and alcohol,” says Dr. Padua, although he notes that “everyone has different thresholds for foods and one person's experience with acid reflux isn't often the same as someone else's.” So it’s important to track your diet and symptoms and see if can identify any trends or obvious connections.

Next up, learn more about the 25 best foods for heart health