Worried about keeping your singing voice healthy and avoiding vocal cord nodules? If so, you’re not alone.
Vocal nodules have been known to affect some of the most famous faces in the music industry including Luciano Pavarotti, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Freddie Mercury.
These small growths are usually caused by straining the voice through overuse and improper singing techniques, making it essential to warm up and exercise your voice regularly to maintain vocal health. Keep reading to learn more about vocal cord nodules and how to keep your singing voice in top form.
What are Vocal Nodules?
Vocal Cord Nodules, or as they are otherwise known, vocal ‘fold’ nodules, are benign (noncancerous) masses of tissue that grow on the vocal cords (folds).
Typically this mass will appear on the junction of the front and middle two-thirds of the vocal fold, where contact is most pronounced.
Vocal Nodules can negatively affect your voice when you try to sing and dramatically impact your chances of success as a professional singer. They tend to affect adults more than children as the condition usually comes from years of strain due to improper voice or singing technique.
What do Vocal Cord Nodules look like?
Vocal cord nodules typically appear as small, smooth, round or oval-shaped bumps on the surface of the vocal cords. They can range in size from a few millimetres to a few centimetres in diameter. The nodules are usually pale or pink in colour and may be slightly raised or depressed.
Vocal cord nodules can occur on one or both vocal cords, and they may be located near the centre or at the edges of the cords. In some cases, the nodules may be so small that they aren’t visible to the naked eye, and can only be seen using specialised equipment such as a laryngoscope or a microscope.
What causes vocal nodules?
The cause of these formations is usually the straining of the voice due to yelling, singing with incorrect technique and other abusive voice practices. Singers who sing in loud venues or attend regular loud karaoke sessions without warming up can be at risk. Constant strain can worsen the condition.
If you’re looking for success as a professional singer, you’ll need to avoid vocal nodules. If you have children and they like to sing or wish to become professional singers, it’s important to get those kids into good technique habits early so they can avoid vocal nodules and have every chance at success. Once you have a good set of exercises for both warming up and ongoing maintenance, you will see your range and vocal freedom open up like magic.
What are the common symptoms of vocal nodules?
There are a number of symptoms that could possibly indicate that a singer has vocal nodules. However, it’s important to remember that many of these symptoms also occur with conditions such as a cold or flu. The most common are as follows:
- Hoarseness: Your voice may sound rough, raspy, or strained.
- Loss of vocal range: You may have difficulty singing or speaking in a normal range.
- Weakness or fatigue of the voice: Your voice may tire easily or sound weak or breathy.
- Pain or discomfort when speaking or singing: You may experience pain or discomfort in your throat, neck, or chest when you use your voice.
- Changes in the sound or pitch of your voice: Your voice may sound higher or lower than usual, or it may sound nasal.
Who can get vocal nodules?
The people most at risk of developing vocal cord nodules are those who must project their voice regularly, such as professional singers (when they sing with poor vocal technique), amateur singers, karaoke singers, actors, teachers, lecturers, military personnel etc.
Singers or those of the other previously mentioned vocations who wish to use their voice can become very frustrated if they develop vocal nodules, as once you have them, they are very difficult to get rid of. Surgery is one option but does come with risks.
Vocal nodules can inhibit the vocal cords from operating naturally due to the nodule’s effect of preventing natural vocal cord/fold opening and closure.
Are Vocal Cord Nodules dangerous to my general health? Or just the health of my voice?
There is no evidence to suggest that vocal cord nodules are dangerous to a person’s general health; however they can be frustrating and can negatively affect the chance of success of people who use their voice professionally e.g. singers, speakers etc.
I’m a singer and I’m concerned about keeping my voice healthy long-term when I sing; how can I avoid getting vocal nodules?
If you’re a singer, the best way to learn how to avoid vocal nodules is to educate yourself on proper technique using a proven voice training system. This will ensure that you minimise strain in your voice when you sing. Once you find a vocal technique singing program that helps with the reduction in vocal strain the vocal freedom that you experience can be amazing.
Parents should really ensure that their children are learning how to use the correct voice technique to avoid strain from a young age, as this is where the problem can start to develop, although it may not show up until many years later.
I have had personal experience, not with vocal nodules but with the reduction of strain on the voice that can be the result of proper vocal technique training. I strained my voice for many years and even considered giving up singing altogether. After finding the right vocal technique program I was astounded at the reduction of strain, improvement of range (3-4 octaves more), vocal stamina, tone improvement, general comfort while singing and dynamic range. It was really like night and day. If you’re struggling with strain or ‘pulling up’ on high notes when singing, I strongly recommend getting a hold of one of the better vocal technique courses available and giving it a good go.
I think I might have vocal cord nodules, what should I do?
If you believe you have vocal nodules, you may wish to consult an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist doctor otherwise known as an Otorhinolaryngologist, or you may wish to simply monitor the symptoms short term and see if they subside.
Written by Matt McGowen