Voice and Speech

Is Your Voice Changing Due to Acid Reflux?

Originally published April 5, 2016

Last updated April 26, 2024

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Acid reflux can cause a whole host of symptoms, but is it to blame for voice changes? Our voice specialist explains.

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus. Common symptoms can include a burning or painful sensation in the middle of your chest, bad breath, nausea or vomiting, painful swallowing or breathing issues.

We turned to Michael Johns III, MD, director of the USC Voice Center at Keck Medicine of USC and professor of clinical otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine to learn more about acid reflux and your voice.

Can acid reflux cause your voice to change?

Voice symptoms can occur with reflux, but usually it takes a lot of reflux to cause enough inflammation to injure your vocal cords and change your voice, according to Johns. In the absence of having other symptoms, like heartburn and a persistent cough on top of acid reflux, the likelihood of acid reflux being the diagnosis for someone’s voice change is extremely low.

More often than not, the root issue is something completely different, he explains.

We make healthy clean sounds by having soft, pliable vocal cords. The primary function of the larynx (also known as the voice box) is to protect the airway. It protects by closing it off. When you swallow, your larynx closes off. Food can then pass into your esophagus without aspiration. When patients have voice changes, there’s a problem with their vocal cords.

What causes your voice to change?

If your voice is changing, it is probably due to abnormalities with your vocal cords and their ability to vibrate in a regular way, Johns says. Sometimes, this is due to a benign or malignant growth on the vocal cords. Changes in your voice may be due to vocal cord nodules, cysts, acute laryngitis, vocal trauma, or muscle tension in the voice box.

If a change in your voice lasts longer than two weeks, Johns recommends that you get evaluated by an otolaryngologist — ideally one who specializes in voice.

Are you experiencing changes in your voice? Our voice experts can help. If you are in the Los Angeles area, request an appointment or call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).