Can Having Breast Implants Affect the Voice?

Kelly Rowland told Cosmopolitan UK about her decision to get breast implants.

The former Destiny’s Child songstress admits to wavering on the decision for a decade and notes having no regrets now. This was important for her and how she felt about herself. As a professional singer, she likely researched and was comfortable with vocal risks associated with this procedure.

We cannot deny that we as a society are a bit preoccupied with appearances. Cosmetic appearance may even impact a singer’s career, where singers or actors choose to undergo surgery to enhance their appearance to help their career.  We’ve become somewhat desensitized to this, and feel that the worst result would be a poor cosmetic outcome.

But are there risks to the voice with surgeries that have nothing to do with the voice?

When you have surgery, there is a very high likelihood you will be intubated? Intubation is the process of placing a breathing tube in your throat, between your vocal folds and into your lungs to allow for ventilation (breathing) during surgery.

Signing up for general anesthesia means having semi-rigid plastic tube placed between your vocal cords.  

Is intubation safe for my voice?

Intubation risks vocal cord injury, even if you are not having vocal surgery.  A difficult intubation can cause:

  • Dislocation of your vocal cord
  • Injury to the lining of your vocal cord
  • Granuloma formation
  • Partial or total paralysis of your vocal cord

 What does that mean?

Dislocation of your vocal cord, or more specifically the cartilage that attaches to your vocal cord, can happen if the breathing tube is placed without clear visualization of the vocal cords. The tube can knock the cartilage off its joint because it is a somewhat blind procedure.

Injury to the lining means that the delicate lining of your vocal cord can be damaged.  When the tube is placed, the tube can rub and abrade (or scrape) the vocal lining.

Granulomas form when a breathing tube is left in place for a long time, although sometimes it can happen even with short periods of intubation. This happens when the lining of the vocal cartilage is injured and the cartilage is exposed.  Any further inflammation (typically acid reflux) permits granuloma formation.

Partial or total paralysis happens in surgery, even if the surgery does not involve the neck.  This is thought to be because the breathing tube puts pressure on the vocal nerves.  The resulting weakness can be temporary or permanent but can cause severe symptoms.  Neck surgery puts the voice nerves at a significantly higher risk.

A singer undergoing neck surgery needs close pre- and post-operative care by a laryngologist as well as a neck surgeon with significant expertise in protecting voice nerves.

The bottom line is that no surgery is benign and no surgery that involves intubation is risk-free for your voice.  However, there are ways to protect against vocal injury. I strongly encourage any singer who is undergoing any surgery that requires general anesthesia and intubation to have a preoperative and postoperative voice evaluation.  Neck surgery requires even greater care.  Talk to your laryngologist before having neck surgery to really understand risks and how to avoid them.