I’ve had many clients reveal to me that they suffer from hoarseness when getting up in the morning that may last for several hours. Some are worried that this might be a sign of laryngeal cancer.
Their anxiety is justified because any time a person is hoarse for over two weeks, cancer can be the cause. There are other, less horrific, diagnoses, however, that are much more likely.
My first step is to convince the client to see an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) as soon as possible. Then I explain to them that they’re probably suffering from a very common condition called gastric reflux or GERD, and gastic reflux is often caused by something as simply as eating too close to bedtime.
Let me explain: There’s a ring of muscle where the esophagus connects to the stomach that keeps food from backwashng up after it’s been swallowed. If you go to bed shortly after eating dinner, this ring of muscle may not be able to keep the food and acid from the stomach from moving up the esophagus. If this happens, the fluid can irritate the delicate vocal folds, which may result in hoarseness.
Other things that might cause gastric reflux are medications such as tricyclic antidepressants; progestin, which often is used in birth control pills; and sleep and anxiety aids. Certain foods such as those with acid like tomatoes may make you more prone to reflux. Also, smoking and alcohol may contribute to it. In addition, it’s very common with pregnancy.
What can you do if you have this problem? Some simple lifestyle changes may be all it takes. First, don’t lie down for at least two hours after eating. You can also try raising the head of your bed four to six inches by placing books or bricks under the legs. With your upper body slightly higher than your feet, the liquid may stay down. In addition, your physician might prescribe a drug such as a Proton pump inhibitor to decrease stomach acid.
As a voice professional, hoarseness is a game-changer. You can’t get or keep many on-air jobs if you’re hoarse often. Luckily, the most common cause of chronic hoarseness is very treatable.
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