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Why Antacids Are Flying Off The Shelves Like They're The New Toilet Paper 

Antacid tablets. (Getty Images)
Antacid tablets. (Getty Images)

People suffering from “pandemic stomach” are buying up Tums, Pepcid and other over-the-counter antacids like they’re the new toilet paper.

Wegmans started limiting shoppers to just two packets to prevent hoarding. But the problem isn’t always the heartburn associated with spicy or acidic foods.

If reflux goes on for a long time, Dr. Thomas Carroll of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston recommends seeing a doctor.

“I definitely am a believer that stress plays a role in reflux,” he says. “And it may not be that it actually increases the amount of reflux that people get, but rather makes us more sensitive to the reflux we already have.”

With gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, stomach acids back up as far as the esophagus. There’s also another condition called laryngopharyngeal acid reflux disease, or LPR, where the stomach juice goes past the esophagus and into the throat, Carroll says.

With LPR, the problem could be caused by a stomach enzyme such as pepsin. Pepsin can stay in the throat for hours, so eating or drinking acidic foods like coffee, dark chocolate or wine can reactivate the enzyme and cause inflammation in the tissue, he says.

The most common symptoms of LPR are cough, throat clearing and postnasal drip, he says, rather than heartburn and regurgitation.

“I find the most difficult cough patients to be those that have been treated for everything under the sun except for the non-acidic reflux,” he says.

People with LPR more commonly show daytime symptoms, while GERD often causes people to wake up with a cough from laying down flat in bed, he says.

Carroll recommends that people with any reflux issue sleep on an incline, but don’t rely on pillows that one can easily slide off of. He also suggests refraining from eating close to bedtime and losing a bit of extra weight to alleviate abdominal pressure.

Antacids like Prilosec help about two-thirds of patients, he says, but some people don’t respond to them. In recent years, doctors have switched to recommending medications with alginates. Made from brown seaweed, alginates form a raft on top of a patient’s stomach contents so the liquid can’t travel up to the esophagus or throat, he says.

Gaviscon heartburn relief tablets and a new product made in California called Reflux Gourmet contain alginates. People can’t buy Gaviscon in U.S. pharmacies yet, but it’s available on Amazon, he says.

During the pandemic, Carroll says he’s seen spikes in people coming into his office with reflux issues.

“Those people were the people who are losing jobs, having to stay home all day, being stressed out by the pandemic,” he says. “We’ve seen so many more cases of what we would suspect being LPR than we did before the pandemic.”

Robin Young produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill RyanAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

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