If your voice has been hoarse, raspy or weak lately, there are a range of possible culprits: vocal abuse (like raising your voice to talk over noise or screaming at a sports game), a dry throat from heating, air conditioning or dehydration; post-nasal drip or inflamed vocal cords from a cold or other illness. But there’s another possibility that often gets overlooked: acid reflux.
Formally known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), reflux happens when stomach acid escapes the stomach and flows up into the esophagus. When the acid goes even further up and flows all the way up into the throat, it can affect the vocal cords and subsequently, vocal quality. Since 1999, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Function Disorders has marked the week of Thanksgiving GERD Awareness Week to help raise public awareness of the symptoms of GERD and how they can be lessened or prevented. Here are a few tips to help manage GERD and keep your voice healthy and happy:
Positioning is Key: Gravity can play a key role in keeping stomach acid where it belongs. While you’re eating, maintain an upright posture, rather than lounging on the couch. After you’ve finished a meal, try to remain upright until you’ve finished digesting. If you experience heartburn in the mornings, it may help to elevate the head of your bed. But don’t just prop extra pillows under your head; prop up the legs of the bed itself by the head of the bed so that the entire bed is angled very slightly downward.
Watch How and What you Eat: Certain foods can exacerbate GERD, for example, peppermint, caffeine, and fatty foods. Alcohol can also make GERD worse, by loosening the muscles that keep acid in place and stimulating acid production. In addition, eating slowly and in a stress-free environment can reduce the severity of GERD.
See a Professional: To diagnose and treat GERD, you should see your primary care physician or an ENT. In order to treat the vocal symptoms that accompany GERD, a speech-language pathologist can be hugely beneficial. When your vocal cords are frequently exposed to stomach acid over time, they will typically become irritated and may develop small growths which can result in a weak or breathy voice. A speech-language pathologist can help by assisting the patient in exercises to improve vocal function and strengthen the overall quality of the voice.
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