My wife sometimes can’t breathe, and she panics. It alarms me, and I don’t know what to do when she gets these attacks. She says she feels tightness in her chest and something hot that goes up her esophagus and then she can’t breathe. Could this be GERD? What specialty doctor should she see?
When a person feels something hot that goes up the esophagus and then they can’t breath, it usually represents Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). This is when the contents of the stomach go the wrong direction into the esophagus.
GERD is a disorder in which the stomach contents leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus. This action can aggravate the esophagus, causing heartburn and other problems.
This reflux can lead to several problems related to the respiratory system. The material that is traveling into the esophagus can go all the way into the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia or simply a great deal of coughing or wheezing. The material can also cause the vocal cords to temporarily close or begin to have a “spasm” and prevent air from entering the lungs.
When the vocal cords are involved, the person will often be unable to speak for a few moments. The other possibility would be that when the contents of the stomach reach the esophagus, a message is sent by the nervous system (a reflex action) that causes the lungs to begin to wheeze. A gastroenterologist would be my first recommendation as a specialist to see.