My Voice

In June I was diagnosed with Laryngopharyngeal (LPR). It is a type of acid reflux. The sheet the ENT gave me says this is how it is different than Gastroesophegeal Reflux Disease (GERD) is that the acid from my stomach travels up past my upper throat muscle and damages the throat-related tissues high up in back of the throat. “The throat-related tissues (Laryngopharygeal), including the vocal cords, are extremely sensitive to stomach contents and damage results when they come into contact with acid and enzymes from the stomach. LPR doesn’t show signs like GERD does because I never felt heartburn or any other symptoms of ‘regular’ acid reflux.

Here were my symptoms: hoarseness, chronic cough, feeling of a lump in the throat that doesn’t go away, ear pain, frequent throat clearing, burning sensation in the throat, swallowing difficulties, shortness of breath, nasal drainage. I think I had this for years but I always chalked it up to allergies, mainly because of the nasal drainage. Finally I went to an ENT because I couldn’t eat. Food would get caught in the back of my throat and I would start to choke. I felt like I almost died when I ate scrabbled eggs and a piece got stuck in the back of my throat. I would have to take a bit of food and then swallow it with water, like a pill, to get it to go down. It got a little scary.

I mention this because my it put into perspective something I took for granted, my voice. Using a ton of water and peppermints I was able to survive two Sundays with this condition and symptoms roaring at full steam. The second Sunday I couldn’t sing without feeling like the tickle in the back of my throat would induce a major coughing fit. I couldn’t sing in my usual range and even my normal speaking voice was starting to go.

It is scary to think about not having a voice when it is your tool for your job. When the ENT stuck a scope down my nose to the back of my throat she said my vocal chords where really swollen and irritated (see picture). LPR can have a lasting effects on the vocal chords and many do not get their full singing range back. LPR if untreated for many years can even cause throat cancer.

I am not sure what I would do if I lost my voice, it is my tool. It is my instrument. It is the way I make a living. Not to have it is tragic to think about it. Now with proper medication, my LPR is under control but I’ll probably be on these meds for the rest of my life. If not the symptoms start to come back.

While researching for a sermon, I found some old notes from my worship class in seminary. In a packet of information was stretching and relaxation exercises for your voice. Whether you have LPR or not, these may come in handy to relax and take care of your voice. I have started to use them and they have seemed to help.

  • Head Drop – drop head down, chin to chest (hold all of these for 30 seconds before moving on to the next one)
  • Say “NO” to your lap – move head gently from side to side
  • Figure 8 – make a figure 8 with your chin, keeping your head down
  • Egyptian Head turn – act like a queen, hold head strait up, back straight and turn head so that your nose chin and shoulder are lined up. Turn side to side.
  • Head Tilt – relax shoulders and tilt head from side to side
  • 45 Degrees – imagine a line going from your nose to your ear pick a point half way on that line at about 45 degrees and drop your chin. Stand up, hold wrists behind your back and pull gently.
  • The Lazy Day – Hands behind head, fingers laced, chin out, yawn. This stretches the front of the throat.
  • Up Tight – bring your shoulders up tight and release, repeat.
  • Single Should Rolls – roll shoulders forward and backward one at a time
  • Raisin Face – squint eyes shut and purse lips tightly
  • Pumpkin Face – open mouth in a wide “O”, raise eyebrows high
  • Massage – shoulders and neck till soft
  • Deep breathing – take a few deep breaths and blow them completely out
  • Massage Larynx – vibrate side to side, push down gently **be careful of carotid artery
  • Sigh – your done!!
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