Following cancelled shows and a shortened tour, Adele has found herself needing vocal surgery.
There is so much spin around this event, making what is an already extremely difficult experience for her moreso by having to face questions about her situation. Is it more serious than she and her team are letting on? Was it due to technique (you know my opinion on that … no)? Will she ever sing again?
Adele is a talented, hard-working musician who sings with passion and force. She works a difficult schedule and, yes, has some habits that made injury more likely. She is a vocal athlete who needs her sports-related injury tended to. It sounds somewhat less stigmatizing when considered that way, and that is the truth of the matter.
It is likely that her punishing schedule alone would have resulted in injury. High demand results in swelling of the vocal cords. Blood vessels in the vocal cords are more likely to rupture in such a setting, and the risk is higher when the singer smokes or engages in other high-risk behaviors. This is called a vocal hemorrhage or bruise.
What is a vocal hemorrhage?
A hemorrhage occurs when a small blood vessel in your vocal folds ruptures and leaks blood into the vocal cords. This is like a “black eye” of the vocal cord.
Everyone’s vocal cords have blood vessels, which can enlarge in certain settings such as:
- strenuous voice use/high vocal demand without rest
- hormonal changes
- irritants (such as smoking)
- certain medications
When your vessels are enlarged and there is strenuous voice use, this may results in a vocal hemorrhage.
What is the “cure”?
There is no cure more effective than prevention.
Eliminating these stressful factors makes your risk of any vocal injury (i.e., hemorrhage, polyps, nodules, etc) much less likely. Focus on:
- Good vocal technique
- Stopping smoking
- Stopping drugs
- Seeing a voice doctor to find enlarged vessels
- Managing medical problems with medications and treatments that are less vocally-risky
The earlier you see a voice doctor (laryngologist), the earlier you can identify and correct your risks.
What is the treatment of a vocal hemorrhage?
Unfortunately, even if you control all the risks you can still hemorrhage. For example, women are more susceptible because of the cyclic variations in hormones that occur with the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
Thankfully, most hemorrhages resolve with voice rest alone. Surgery is only needed if:
- There is a large hemorrhage which will not go away with voice rest alone
- There is an enlarged blood vessel that can be treated (to prevent future hemorrhages)
Only a laryngologist can tell you if you need a procedure or if you’ve even hemorrhaged. The benefit of treating an enlarged vessel (i.e, with a laser) is that it can prevent future vocal hemorrhages.
Enlarged vessels can be treated with a laser to seal off the blood vessel. Some people remove the enlarged vessels surgically. There may be associated injuries that also need to be addressed surgically and it is possible that Adele is having a combination of this type of work. Rather than speculating and wondering, it serves us all best to simply wish her the best and wait to hear the results for ourselves.