Q: A singer develops nodules or polyps on their vocal cords from overuse, what is the likelihood of recovery and continued success as a vocalist?” Nola
A: First of all, nodules (nodes) and polyps are not the result of “over-use.” These vocal fold maladies derive from misuse. Some believe this is the inevitable result of singing rock music or using a “belting” style. This also, is not true. They are the body’s attempt to protect the vocal membrane from the irritation caused by tension and friction. The irritation is created by how you sing not what you sing. As nodes and polyps can be scary, let’s gain some more understanding so we can avoid getting them.
Nodes are blister-like swellings that typically form in pairs, one the rim of each vocal fold, at the point where excess friction has been the most severe. Polyps are the loosening and swelling of the vocal folds’ mucous membrane. This is often triggered by prolonged exposure to some irritant (such as smoke). There are many symptoms which may accompany the presence of nodes or polyps. Some of them are:
- Pain or a burning sensation in or around the larynx (“voice box” – the tube extending from just below your jaw to your Adam’s apple);
- Tension or tightness in the throat;
- A change in the tone of the voice from clear to breathy, raspy, squeaky, rough or foggy;
- Increased effort needed to make and project the sound of your voice.
A well trained vocal coach can usually detect nodes or polyps by listening to the sound of a singer’s voice. However, only an E.N.T. (ear/nose/throat doctor) or a speech pathologist has the training and equipment to look at the folds and determine with certainty the presence of nodes or polyps.
The above symptoms can also stem from a less serious condition of swollen folds and should be taken as a warning sign. If your vocal folds are only swollen, consider yourself lucky and save your voice by getting some proper voice coaching without delay.
These days, surgery is the very last resort. The key to recovery lies in examining, discovering and undoing all unnecessary tension and manipulation created by improper singing. With correct information about how the voice works and accompanying exercises, you can replace bad habits with the natural, balanced and coordinated actions of your vocal apparatus.
Singing a lot or for long periods does not have to be a problem, if you learn to work with your body and eliminate tension and friction. Nodes and polyps can be avoided, or if you have them, you can recover and be successful as a singer without surgery through correct voice coaching and therapy.