GERD is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions in the general US population. ENT manifestations of GERD have become more commonly recognized or suspected by physicians, although the direct association between symptoms and acid reflux has been difficult to establish. Most patients with suspected supraesophageal GERD do not have the typical symptoms of heartburn and acid regurgitation. Possible mechanisms of GERD-mediated damage to extraesophageal structures include direct-contact damage of mucosal surfaces by acid-pepsin exposure and a vagal reflex arc between the esophagus and the upper aerodigestive tract, triggered by acid reflux. Dual-channel ambulatory pH monitoring is the most sensitive and specific diagnostic test for determining transient reflux episodes, although demonstrating the presence of acid reflux alone does not prove that it is the cause of suspected GERD-related signs or symptoms. Therefore, physicians must sometimes resort to an empirical treatment strategy for both diagnosis and treatment. High-dose PPI therapy for 9 to 12 weeks is the recognized first-line therapy; operative therapy is reserved for patients who have severe complications or whose condition incompletely responds to treatment. Complete lack of response should prompt reconsideration of alternative diagnoses. Controlled, well-designed clinical trials to assess treatment and more sophisticated techniques to quantify acid reflux are needed to help determine which patients with suspected extraesophageal complications actually have GERD as the primary cause.
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