Americans are busy adopting new routines to stay healthy and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the stress of navigating daily life during a pandemic remains. We’re spending more time at home, leading more sedentary lifestyles, and indulging in more comfort food than usual, which can have some painful consequences – namely, heartburn.
Also known as acid reflux, heartburn can be a miserable experience: the burning sensation in your chest or throat starts during a stressful event or after finishing a meal and can last for hours afterwards. Other symptoms may include a hot, sour, or acidic fluid feeling in the back of your throat, as well as a lingering cough, sore throat, or hoarse voice.
Occasional heartburn is extremely common, with more than one in four adults experiencing heartburn symptoms at least once a week. But some people have frequent heartburn-when symptoms re-occur at least two times per week. The good news is that safe and effective over-the-counter (OTC) treatment options are available.
“Treating heartburn symptoms is a common conversation I have with patients, and with the additional concern people have regarding COVID-19, they want to know which medicines are still safe to take for heartburn,” says Dr. Leiana Oswald, clinical pharmacist and associate professor of pharmacy practice at Roseman University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy. “With so many treatment options available, it can be confusing to know which one is right for you.”
Lifestyle considerations are the first step in helping to manage heartburn symptoms. “Even if you’re spending your days at home, it’s important to fit in some physical activity. And whether you’re cooking or ordering takeout, avoid common heartburn triggers such as fat and greasy foods and alcohol,” says Oswald.
OTC heartburn treatments are also available which are safe and effective when taken as directed. The right treatment depends on the frequency and cause of your heartburn — for occasional heartburn symptoms, Oswald recommends OTC antacids (such as Alka-Seltzer, Mylanta or Tums) or H2 blockers (such as Pepcid or Tagamet).
“If you suffer from heartburn two or more days per week, you’ll want to look for OTC proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which are specifically indicated to treat symptoms of frequent heartburn,” says Oswald. “Brand names include Nexium 24HR, Prevacid 24HR, Prilosec OTC or Zegrid OTC.”
Always follow the Drug Facts label on OTCs for proper use, directions, warnings, and other information. And talk to your healthcare provider about more chronic or severe cases of heartburn. They can diagnose other conditions, causes, and help you manage more serious conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease.
“Whatever you do, don’t ignore heartburn symptoms,” says Oswald. “In addition to causing significant pain and discomfort, if left untreated, the stomach acid that causes heartburn can damage the esophagus and teeth.”
Staying healthy at home includes managing stress and your digestive health.
For more information, visit www.KnowYourOTCs.org. Created by the CHPA Educational Foundation, the site serves as a resource to help you navigate the OTC aisle when treating heartburn or other symptoms.