I’m sure it comes as no surprise that late night binges of spicy foods, alcohol and coffee are no good for your health, but did you know these habits are also no good for your voice? If you are constantly clearing your throat, especially after eating, and wrestling with a continuous rasp, the cause may not be poor vocal technique but a condition known as G.E.R.D. Gastro esophageal reflux disease, more commonly called reflux, is being diagnosed a lot more lately due to sensitive new diagnostic equipment. More than just heartburn, this common condition occurs when digestive acids back up the esophagus and burn the vocal folds. Since the symptoms resemble a good old-fashioned blown voice, many doctors used to write off the damage, and the singer, to kamikaze screaming. They now know that’s not always the case. Reflux swells the folds, making them unresponsive, and misleads a singer into pushing too hard. It’s a scenario where the condition creates the behavior instead of the other way around. If you suspect you have G.E.R.D. see an Ear Nose & Throat specialist. If you can’t afford a visit to an ENT, there are steps you can take on your own.
The first line of defense is usually a prescription-strength antacid; Rolaids will do if you are self-medicating. This just treats the symptoms so don’t think of it as a fix. Doctors always follow the prescription with a lecture on diet and eating habits. No coffee, smokes, alcohol, sodas, junk food or spicy stuff. Basically, your whole life-style goes out the window. Eating late and crashing is also a big no-no. Lying down after eating allows digestive juices an easy path to your vocal folds. Don’t be too quick to mourn the loss of your vices. When you think about it, we musicians eat terribly for two reasons: cash and convenience. If someone slid a healthy meal in front of you, would you still long for a burrito and a beer? Eating healthy does not have to cost a fortune or take all your time if you plan ahead. Don’t let Taco Bell be in charge of your diet options. Before the chains ruled the planet, brown bagging a lunch was a way of life. Pack a bag full of turkey slices, celery, carrots, apples — or any non-citrus fruits or vegetables before heading to work. Make it part of your morning ritual: wallet, keys, lunch. When on the road planning ahead is even more important. Just as fueling up the van is a no-brainer, so should stocking a cooler.
A long and thorough warm up is also vital to heal your voice. Even though over-singing may not have caused the condition of your voice, the result is the same. Humming at a very low volume up down your range, in and out of falsetto (without pushing) will help reduce the thickness of the folds. It may take all day until you stop cracking and hitting blank spots, which means you’ll have to start vocalizing early. It’s very important that you don’t push from your abs to fix a stubborn pitch. It will only dig a deeper hole. As always, hydrate with at least two liters of water per day.
There is some leeway if these steps sound like torture. Some foods may cause more reaction than others and you can elevate the head of your bed to reduce the effects of post-gig meals. However, to discover what evils are manageable, you’ll have to start with a clean system. Knowing you’ll be able to keep some of your old ways makes it easier to start a bland diet. After a few weeks of cold turkey (pun intended), ask yourself what you miss the most. Using your voice as the gage, you can discover your particular vocal offenders. Ultimately, the choice comes down to what you’re willing to compromise. Will it be the music or the Mexican? Are you going to lower your artistic standards or drop the Chalupa?