After 10 years, Georgia woman finally gets help for 'mystery cough'

- At 72, Jane Beacham loves to travel, and she's serious about it.

"The kind of traveling I like to do is to hop off the airplane with the plugs still in my ears and hit the ground moving," Beacham says.

But more than a decade ago, Beacham began coughing and clearing her throat, constantly. "It was embarrassing," she says.

A lung doctor listened to her symptoms and diagnosed her with asthma, prescribing a series of medications.

"I bet I went through 7 or 8 different types of inhalers," Beacham remembers.

But nothing helped; the cough continued.

"I was just getting out of breath, getting out of the air,” she says.

Desperate, Beacham went online and found DeKalb gastroenterologist Dr. Jeffrie Kamean and his partners, who immediately suspected Beacham's problem wasn't asthma.

"I said how do you know I'm not an asthma patient, how do you know that," Beacham says she asked the doctor.  "And he said, 'I just know, that is not an asthma cough.'"

After extensive testing, Beacham was diagnosed with "silent reflux."  She didn't have heartburn.

But during sleep, acid would leak from her stomach, up through her esophagus, pooling in the back of her throat. Kamean says that caused the irritation triggering her cough.

"So the idea is that it's at night," Kamean says.  "It's real reflux, but it's 'silent' because you're 'sleeping."

Put on on an acid-reducing medication, Beacham stopped coughing.

"And when she came back in two months, she said it was a miracle," Dr. Kamean remembers.  "Her cough was gone, she was sleeping, she was ready to travel."

Earlier this year, Beacham underwent the LINX procedure, to stop the reflux.

Dr. Kamean says if you have an unexplained cough, see a lung doctor and an ear, nose and throat specialist first. Then, if you're still coughing, find a gastroenterologist willing to look deeper.

"There is still a debate in our field as to how much reflux really causes cough and sinus issues," Kamean says.  "We are firm believers here at DeKalb that that is true. We've had a lot of successful surgeries here correcting reflux, and medication as well."

These days, Jane Beacham is traveling again.

"I just got back from France," she smiles.  "Had a great trip.  Do it again in a minute.  Waiting for the next one!"

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