Stories of professional singers who require surgery after vocal injury are increasing in frequency. Keith Urban, country singing superstar, is the latest in a long line of those who have announced the need for vocal surgery, which he will undergo to remove a vocal polyp.
What is a vocal polyp?
A polyp is a gelatinous collection that occurs on the vocal cord edge as a result of trauma. While most common in professional voice users, they can occur in anyone who uses their voice frequently.
How do I know if I have a polyp?
People with polyps will often note:
- Loss of vocal range (loss of notes at the top)
- Change in speaking voice quality (a rattle or a raspy quality)
- Widened vocal break or difficulty navigating the break
- Voice fatigue
- Throat discomfort
However the only way to know for sure if to have a thorough voice exam with a laryngologist.
What is the treatment?
While surgery may be required, there are treatments that may help you avoid surgery. Therapy alone can sometimes help decrease polyp size.
What are the risks of surgery?
Vocal surgery, like any surgery, is risky and should not be taken lightly. The results and the impact on your voice depends on several things:
- The skill of the surgeon and the quality of the surgeon’s instruments
- Your vocal technique
- How your body heals
- Your overall vocal health (including caring for any medical issues that impact your voice)
- Your investment in rehabilitation after surgery
Why are so many singers having trouble?
Professional voice users are plagued with vocal problems, even when they take excellent care of their voice. I am a strong believer in preventative voice care and pre-tour, pre-performance checks. This cannot prevent all injury and problems but it can avoid some and also provides a resource for singers if they do have any symptoms.
Singers have many obligations besides singing that require voice. Interviews, public appearances, and rehearsing require significant voice use. A professional singer is a vocal athlete and is as prone to injury as any other athlete. The major difference is that a professional athlete typically has a head and specialty coach, trainer, and physical therapist as well as an on-call team doctor. A vocalist does not access these services until it is too late because this is not the norm in that industry. With time, though, and increased honesty around these problems that high-profile singers face, it is my hope that all professional voice users will be empowered to take better, preventative care of their voice.
Seek an evaluation with a laryngologist when all is feeling well. Troubleshoot problems early and take ownership of your instrument. These are the only ways to navigate a demanding career without injury.