One of the biggest concerns a singer faces throughout their career is learning to keep the voice healthy and functioning at its highest level. Vocal nodes are a common problem among singers and one of the leading fears we can encounter. It is a large motivator in voice lessons to teach proper technique and good vocal habits. Many students and voice teachers do not have a basic understanding of vocal nodes and therefore are either misinformed about them or do not have the knowledge to completely avoid them. I truly believe that all singers should be taught about vocal nodes during voice lessons to help increase the students understanding of the voice and to encourage the student to take proper care of their instrument.
What are vocal nodes? Vocal nodes or polyps are basically growths that build up at about the midpoint of the vocal cords due to vocal abuse. They typically start with just minor swelling of the vocal cord that over time grow into bumps and can cause severe difficulty in singing and speech. Nodules appear on both sides of the vocal cord and can be compared to a callus while polyps are more like a blister and appear only on one side of the vocal cord.
What are some symptoms of vocal nodes? There are a number of symptoms of vocal nodes and they vary in intensity as much as vocal nodes or polyps can appear in size. Some of the most common symptoms are: hoarseness, frequent throat clearing, vocal fatigue, breathiness, rough or scratchy voice, shooting pain from ear to ear, lump in throat sensation, and more .In the singing voice vocal nodes can be often detected by a small puff of air heard after singing a consonant. A doctor can easily detect vocal nodes and if you suspect nodes or have been hoarse for a couple weeks see a doctor as soon as possible.
How do you get vocal nodes? There are a large number of ways that singers can get vocal cords or nodules but they can almost all be narrowed down to vocal abuse. Some of the most common causes are not always due to bad vocal technique these can include smoking or drinking caffeine or alcohol as these products greatly dry out the vocal cords leaving them vulnerable. They can also be cause by screaming, yelling, cheerleading (improperly), coughing, acid reflux, or allergies. Bad vocal technique is also a leading cause of vocal nodes and especially apparent in singers who are taught to belt improperly or bring their chest voice today. Vocal nodes are becoming much more common as music today encourages a belting tone. Many popular singers today get vocal nodes from any of the above cause as well as bad vocal technique are reported to include Julie Andrews, Adele, Madonna, Keith Urban and John Mayer.
What can you do to treat them? Vocal cords or polyps can be treated by three main options. Either they can be removed surgically which can be a little risky but is constantly improving in affectivness. Singers can also choose to treat the disorder medically if the cause is something like acid reflux there are medications that can removed the cause of the nodes and allow them to heal. There is also a behavioral treatment that requires the singer to alter their lifestyle to allow the node to heal on its own. This is usually the safest way to treat them but can also mean extended periods of little to no talking or singing. Many doctors recommend going to voice lesson to learn the best technique for singing and speech production. Your doctor is the best judge of your treatment and results will be best with early detection so it is good to have a regular ENT who you can go to if you are experience extended symptoms.