by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
© June, 2015; Revised Sep, 2019
A lady wrote,
I am profoundly deaf from contracting meningitis in 2010. I have severe tinnitus and have recently been diagnosed with acid reflux. I have been prescribed Prilosec and Protonix which makes the tinniutus much worse. Can you recommend another drug that will not give me that additional discomfort. I am at my wits end.
Unfortunately, all the Proton Pump Inhibitors used to treat acid reflux including Omeprazole (Prilosec) and Pantoprazole (Protonix) have tinnitus as one of their many side effects. I’ve heard from numbers of people that now have tinnitus from taking one of them.
As a result, I can’t tell you of any acid reflux drugs that would help without making your tinnitus worse as you have already found out. That’s the bad news, but it’s actually good news in disguise. You see there are a number of other non-ototoxic remedies that doctors seldom mention that can help you deal with, or eliminate, your acid reflux.
Instead of taking drugs that merely manage the symptoms but don’t address the underlying cause of your acid reflux, a much better and wiser approach is to discover what caused your acid reflux in the first place.
You see, all acid reflux drugs do is try to suppress the symptoms of acid reflux. As a result, you’d need to take these drugs for the rest of your life, because they are just managing the symptoms rather than working to fix the underlying problem.
In contrast, my philosophy is you need to correct the underlying condition. When you work to eliminate the cause, you won’t have acid reflux any more, and thus you won’t need to take any acid reflux drugs.
The best place to start is to look at what was going on in the weeks before your acid reflux symptoms first began. Try to figure out what changed that caused your acid reflux.
For example, did you start taking a new medication? Did you recently put on weight? Did your back “go out”? Did you change your diet? Are you eating later than before, etc. As I’ll show you in a moment, all these are pertinent questions that may have a bearing on your acid reflux.
If I had acid reflux, here are a number of the things I’d investigate. (And incidentally, whenever I do get the odd attack of acid reflux, one of the below is always culprit—and changing it quickly solves the problem for me.)
The points below are in no particular order, and their importance to you will vary with your specific situation.
1. If you are getting older, your acid reflux may be caused by a lack of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in your stomach. You see, as you age, your stomach produces less and less hydrochloric acid to digest your food. Thus, it sits in your stomach and ferments and you experience acid reflux.
The real problem in this case is not too much acid in your stomach (like many doctors think), but too little acid. Thus, the solution is to take hydrochloric acid tablets (typically called Betaine HCL) with each meal so you can properly digest your food without reflux problems.
Note: if you are going to take Betain HCL, you need to be careful and learn when, how much and with what foods you need to take it. An excellent easy-to-read article on the subject is “4 Common Betain HCL Mistakes“.
Alternately, you can easily improve the acid content of your stomach by taking 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a large glass of water.
2. You may find that eating certain foods (especially for supper) causes you grief that night as you suffer through bouts of acid reflux. The obvious solution is to quit eating those foods. If it seems to be food in general that causes your acid reflux (and you’ve addressed point 1 above), then you need to change your diet and eliminate all processed foods and replace them with unprocessed, natural foods. Try to eat about 1/3 of your food raw. Also watch for any condiments and spices that may make your acid reflux worse.
The top 10 culprits include spicy foods, onions, citrus foods, tomato products, fried foods, chocolate, alcohol, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, carbonated beverages and peppermint. (Some of these will be expanded on later.)
3. Don’t overeat. Overeating or eating a large meal can cause acid reflux. This is because excessive food in your stomach causes your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to open, which may allow stomach acid to flow into your esophagus.
4. Don’t eat/drink anything after 6:00 PM except water. You want your stomach mostly empty by bedtime. Then there won’t much there to cause acid reflux.
Eating a heavy, spicy meal (or snack) later in the evening is a surefire way to end up with acid reflux that night—at least it is for me (and my wife).
5. Acid reflux more often occurs in overweight people. Thus, if you are overweight, you should start on a program to get your weight down to where it should be. Just doing this can eliminate a lot of cases of acid reflux. And one of the things you’ll probably need to do to accomplish this is to change your diet (point 2) so this will also help your acid reflux to go away.
6. Sleep on a wedge pillow if necessary. This is important, especially if you are overweight. The wedge pillow elevates your head and upper torso so food and stomach acids can’t as easily back up into your throat.
7. Check out any drugs and medications you take to be sure that they aren’t causing your acid reflux (and numbers of drugs do). If you began a new medication and in the next few weeks you realize that you now suffer from acid reflex, this is a strong indication that the drug is likely the culprit. The solution is simple–dump that drug and your acid reflux may disappear like magic.
8. A “pinched” nerve in your upper back can result in acid reflux problems. This happened to my brother. The solution is quite simple. Have a chiropractor check out your back for subluxations. Just a chiropractic treatment or two can correct the problem in your back and when your nerves work properly again, your acid reflux will also likely disappear.
9. Stay away from peppermint if you have acid reflux because peppermint can actually relax the sphincter muscle that closes off the top of your stomach from your esophagus. When this happens, stomach acid can pour back into your esophagus and make your acid reflux worse. In like manner, if your stomach is full and you lay down, when your upper sphincter muscle relaxes, stomach contents including stomach acids can flow back up into your esophagus and you have acid reflux.
10. Alcohol is another thing that can cause the upper sphincter muscle to relax so if alcohol is causing your acid reflux, stay away from it especially in the evening. Chocolate is yet another food that can relax the sphincter muscle and cause acid reflux.
11. Coffee, soda, tea, iced tea, and any other foods and beverages that contain caffeine can result in acid reflux. You don’t have to eliminate them altogether, but cut down your portions. For example a 3 or 4 oz. cup of coffee in the morning is probably not going to cause you problems, but if you drink coffee all day and in the evening, you are asking for trouble if you are prone to acid reflux.
12. Cut out smoking. Smoking causes the LES to relax and open, again causing acid to reflux. Smoking may also reduce you stomach acid production.
Just addressing these 12 things should go a long ways towards eliminating most causes of acid reflux without your taking a single drug.
And as a bonus, hopefully your tinnitus will go away too.
If you want to learn more about tinnitus, the many things that can trigger tinnitus, and a number of things you can do to help bring your tinnitus under control, check out my book, “When Your Ears Ring—Cope with Your Tinnitus–Here’s How“.