Heartburn Drugs May Worsen Allergic Symptoms

After one too many burgers, brats or beers this Labor Day weekend, many adults may find themselves dealing with heartburn, especially if they were eating later at night than usual.  But with ragweed season approaching, it may be worth considering the results of a new study that links proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) used to treat reflux disorders with a worsening of allergic symptoms.  

According to a study, published in the journal Nature Communications, drugs like Prilosec and Nexus that reduces the production of stomach acid to treat heartburn can also cause people to be more sensitive to allergens from pollen, pets or food.  A recent Everyday Health report explains that stomach acid helps to break down food and kill any bacteria that could cause infection.  The acid in the stomach also defends against microbes or proteins that could trigger an allergic reaction.  When stomach acid production is blocked by a PPI drug, people may experience allergies for the first time or have worsened symptoms. 

According to the immunology study out of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, people who were prescribed antacid drugs were nearly twice as likely to start a new prescription for allergy drugs.   And women, in particular, had double the risk for taking a new allergy prescription than men.  The risk also was greater for people over the age of 60 and the longer an acid-blocking drug was taken, the more likely adults would also be prescribed allergy medication. 

The research was limited to the use of antihistamines used to treat allergies but did not include other medication sometimes prescribed to treat allergies and asthma.  And although the study does not provide clear evidence that taking PPIs will trigger allergies, patients should be aware that acid-blocking drugs may worsen existing allergic symptoms.   The best practice for allergy sufferers with heartburn is to use other acid-blocking drugs or PPIs for only a short period of time to control symptoms.   A change in diet and eating habits can also help control reflux disorders. 

Foods That May Trigger Heartburn

  • alcohol, particularly red wine
  • black pepper, garlic, raw onions, and other spicy foods
  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits and juices
  • coffee and caffeinated drinks
  • peppermint
  • tomatoes

It is also recommended that people who suffer heartburn avoid overeating, switch to having smaller meals more frequently and stop eating at least 2 hours before bedtime to allow food to digest.