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The secret "holiday killer"

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

It happened again this morning. 


After years of feeling fabulous, I came face to face with the secret voice killer again.


About 4:30 this morning,  I found myself awakened with a burning, crushing pain in the top of my chest. It wasn't a heart attack... it was acid reflux reminding me of how foolish it is to stay up late chatting with my daughter over a glass of wine. I took my tried and true medication, and all was well…or so I thought. 


As I went through my morning vocal warmups, however, I noticed a familiar soreness in the back of my throat.  Acid reflux was doing it’s dirty little tricks. 


Everything felt achy and out of sorts. It’s nothing new for me, and I’m pretty certain that many of you have felt it as well. 


Unbeknownst to the non-singing public, acid reflux is one of the biggest  “silent killers” of singing voices.  A few years back, Demi Lovato had bouts of hoarseness, vocal nodes and cancellations of concerts, all springing from Acid Reflux. .  Sometimes, we may be suffering from reflux but not recognizing it as such, because we don’t have the typical symptoms of heartburn or indigestion.  That’s where it can become a real issue for singers, because it can go undiagnosed and untreated for years, while the voice feels the damaging effects. 


Our modern lifestyles result in more acid production than we can handle.  If it occurs just before lying down, that acid can go on a little road trip up the esophagus.    

Unfortunately, the area around the larynx provides a rest stop with plenty of “parking spaces” around the arytenoids, and epiglottis.  Those delicate structures aren’t meant to handle acid, and that’s when the voice suffers “all the things”:


1.    Chronic hoarseness in the voice when speaking

2.    Difficulty or discomfort when speaking or singing

3.    Decreased vocal range or pitch instability

4.    Vocal fatigue or loss of voice after a very short period

5.    Increased effort or strain required to produce sounds

6.    Unintentionally “breathy” sounding voice

7.    Inability to speak or sing loud

8.    Loss of falsetto and head registers

9.    Excessive clearing of the throat or coughing

10. The sensation of a lump or ball in the throat


That list comes from one of my favorite vocal health sites called “Throga”. 


They make some great suggestions on how to deal with reflux as a singer. 

It doesn’t have to be the end of singing!  But it does mean that you’ll need to be a little more mindful of habits like eating late, lying down right after a big meal as well as excessive caffeine, or that evening night cap of alcohol   When I first battled this at the age of 21, I had to change the angle of my bed in the dorm so that my head could be more elevated.  If you want more detailed understanding of reflux, visit the site above. 


The holidays can be a time, when

     stress levels are high,

          sleep patterns are disrupted,

               healthy diets go out the window,

                    and we partake of a bit more alcohol in the spirit of the season and

                        more caffeine to power through the busy schedule.

                 Vocally, we take on a few extra holiday shows and performances,

              Stay up late singing Karaoke with friends,

        Chat until the wee hours catching up with loved ones

and the next thing we know,

your voice is in some pretty sad shape. 


I’m encouraging everyone to drink at least two full water bottles of water, herbal teas, and healthy hydration a day!  If you need some more information, check out the website  and don’t be afraid to have a discussion with your medical doctor. 


I had to keep a journal for about three months in college to really get to the root of my own personal challenges to my vocal health.  It wasn’t a big mystery:  too much caffeine, staying up too late, poor sleep positions, an underlying autoimmune condition that affected my gut health, and a high level of stress. 


It took a bit to get my vocal health back, but I was able to find a much better level of health, and it taught me some life-long lessons in the process. 


I’m wishing you all the best in the upcoming holiday season! 

Stay healthy and keep singing!    



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