Hoarseness and Acid Reflux - dummies

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

Just like coughing, it’s common for people with reflux to experience hoarseness. Hoarseness can be extremely uncomfortable. If you’ve ever had to clear your throat while you were sick, you can start to understand what chronic hoarseness can feel like. It’s that same feeling of not wanting to swallow or cough for fear of the searing pain, only now it’s a daily struggle.

And it’s not only how you feel that’ll be affected, but how you sound. You may be hoarse without pain at all. You may experience a change of pitch or volume in your voice. In some cases, a voice will get deeper or harsher. Your voice can sound gravelly or scratchy. You may even lose your voice completely as a result of acid reflux’s impact on your vocal cords.

This is one reason why acid reflux is a huge problem for professional singers. Not only can it change the overall tone and quality of the voice, but the acid can damage the vocal cords.

When acid reflux reaches the larynx or throat, it’s known as larynogopharyngeal reflux (LPR). When vocal-fold swelling is combined with cough (another common symptom associated with LPR), it can lead to vocal-fold lesions. These also damage the voice. In many cases, vocal lesions can only be repaired through surgery.

There is some encouraging information when it comes to hoarseness related to reflux and LPR. First, LPR is less common than acid reflux. It’s more difficult for stomach acid to travel all the way up the esophagus to the larynx and throat. In some cases, stomach acid will only reach the larynx and throat when you’re lying down.

This is why many people who deal with acid reflux–related hoarseness complain that their symptoms are worse in the morning.

The other piece of good news is that, unlike reflux-induced chronic coughing, treatment for hoarseness is generally more effective. The first step is usually to treat the acid reflux. Several studies have shown that medication commonly taken to treat reflux or GERD eliminates hoarseness after just a few weeks.

If you’re experiencing hoarseness, rest your voice as much as possible. This will minimize the damage to your vocal cords and give them time to heal and recover. Also, do your best to avoid irritants such as dust, chemical fumes, tobacco smoke, or alcohol.