Welcome to Healing Well! You're definitely in the right place.
How long have you been on the Nexium and Zantac? It takes some time for them to reach full effectiveness (about 2 weeks). After that, assuming that they take care of your acid, it will take time for the tissue in your lungs and esophagus to heal.
I had asthma before GERD, but the GERD made my asthma far, far worse. After four years of struggling with unhealthy lungs, and many episodes of burned esophagus, I had the Nissen surgery to tighten my LES, and thankfully it worked. My lungs improved in about two and a half months, and have been far, far better ever since.
So...the answer is no. You don't have to live like that forever. If the medications don't work for you, surgery will be able to correct the problem and get your lungs back in shape so you can become active again.
Hopefully the meds will be enough. They are for many people.
Now, if you do decide you need surgery, you might have to fight for it, because LPR is a different type of GERD and sometimes GI docs and surgeons don't like to do the surgery because it's not always as effective. The people they love to operate on are the ones with wide-open LES valves that allow food and acid to reflux freely into the esophagus and mouth. They are certain that these people will be helped by the surgery.
I, like you, had more atypical symptoms, and it took longer to convince my GI doc that surgery would be helpful. My family doc and asthma doc were both certain that the reflux was causing my problem. However, when tested, my reflux levels/occurances were not what the GI doc felt were bad enough to warrant the surgery. Finally after persistance by my docs and me, he decided that perhaps I could consider surgery.
So, don't assume you need surgery, but if you do, don't give up if you're put off. I expect that you will be having lots of adjustments to medications before surgery is even considered at all. Give the meds a chance, but if they don't work, you do have another option.
Again, glad you've joined the forum!
There are lots of people here in the same boat, so they'll surely have more to add.