Reflux and Singing

Reflux Symptoms and Management for Singers

Researchers currently estimate that approximately 1 in every 5 American adults suffers from reflux.; A chronic condition that allows contents to flow from the stomach back into the esophagus. It just sounds yuck, right?. An even larger percentage of the singing population is estimated to deal with some level of reflux, which can really negatively impact the voice. Because so many of us will deal with reflux at one point or another, we wanted to give you an understanding of the types of reflux most likely to impact singers, potential reflux causes and triggers, symptoms to watch for and tips for reflux management.

GERD and LPR and Their Symptoms

The most common type of reflux , and the one that you’ve likely heard about, is GERD which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. Typical symptoms include heartburn, burping, pain in the chest, the feeling of something stuck in the throat, frequent coughing and even vomiting in some cases…plus many more. Certainly, if you are suffering from any of these symptoms, GERD could be the culprit. But there is another kind of reflux that is not talked about as frequently and that effects a good number of singers and that is LPR - laryngopharengeal reflux. LPR is also known as “silent reflux” because many who suffer from it don’t experience any noticeable typical symptoms. So, it takes longer to recognize which means is can wreak some serious havoc. Typical symptoms of LPR include a sensation of post nasal drip, frequent throat clearing (heightened in the morning), hoarseness, a feeling of something in the throat, the feeling of a sore throat and more. LPR is especially tricky for singers because it is when stomach acid travels up the esophagus and spills over directly into the throat and larynx. These causes irritation, swollen and puffy vocal folds and can lead to worse conditions. What we are saying is, if you can skip it, definitely do!

What Causes Reflux? 

Singers are at extra risk for reflux due to the amount of pressure that is put on our lower abdominal region when singing. This really jostles stuff around - our very technical explanation - and after repeated activity like this, our lower esophageal sphincter can weaken, which allows stomach contents to move from the stomach (where we want them) into the esophagus and, in LPR, then into the throat and laryngeal area  (where we most certainly do not want them). Here are just a few more causes of reflux to be mindful of:

  1. Smoking (Do you need yet another reason not to smoke? If so, now you have it!)
  2. Dietary choices (This can very much differ from one person to the next. Typical triggers include: citrus, tomato, alcohol, carbonated beverages and more
  3. Extra pressure on the lower abdominal area such as - pregnancy, being overweight, wearing the super cute skin tight pants to your performance (go ahead and skip those, if you can!)
  4. Stress and anxiety….and many more

How to Manage Reflux

Though reflux is not fun to deal with and can be especially frustrating and damaging to singers, it is manageable. You can have a healthy voice and  a very successful singing career with the right management tactics and tools for you. Here are some to consider…

  1. Keep a food diary and avoid food and beverages that seem to trigger reflux symptoms
  2. Avoid eating and drinking several hours before bed.
  3. Don’t smoke (for the love, people!)
  4. Elevate the head of your bed when sleeping - you can do this using a body wedge pillow that elevates you from the waist up or by raising the head of your bed frame about 5-6 inches. This keeps stomach contents from being able to travel up your esophagus and reach your throat when lying down
  5. Wear loose fitting clothing around your middle.
  6. If you have tried multiple reflux management strategies and they haven’t been effective, reach out to your general doctor for overall help and/or a laryngologist that specializes in the voice for specific voice concerns and symptoms.

If you haven’t had your reflux fill, check out our YouTube video with more specific reflux and singing tips