All About Vocal Nodules

Author: Tyler Vazquez

Editor: Katelyn Ma

Artist: Aurora Chen

Vocal nodules or vocal nodes are any kind of benign growth on the vocal folds, located in the respiratory system. What is so interesting about vocal nodules are the effects they may have on a person, combining both anatomy and, most commonly, music and pedagogy. Many contemporary and classical vocalists such as Mariah Carey, Adele, Freddie Mercury, Luciano Pavarotti, and Sam Smith have had vocal nodes. For now, let’s discuss the effects of vocal nodules on the voice and how advancements in medicine have sought to change that.

Vocal nodules cause several chronic symptoms if not properly treated. These can include hoarseness in the voice, a shorter vocal range and tessitura, the loss of one’s voice, neck pain, and physical fatigue. This is because the vocal folds are so heavily damaged that speaking, singing, or even humming become strenuous, thereby causing your body to increase vocal stress. This can result in the nodes to become incredibly calloused or even ulcerated if vocal stress reaches a breaking point.

Why do many singers and teachers have vocal nodules, exactly? Well, there are a few reasons. The use of the cricothyroid (CT) and thyroarytenoid (TA) muscles are used in order to produce one’s notes and sound. When these muscles are not used properly (perhaps from oversinging, yelling frequently, allergies, intense alcohol usage, or frequent smoking), vocal nodes begin to develop. If one begins to feel hoarse vocally or is unable to speak for more than two weeks, it is necessary that an ear, nose, and throat physician needs to examine the vocal folds to determine the underlying causes. If it is determined that vocal nodules have developed in a person’s voice, there are a few options that can be taken.

One potential pathway a person may go down to remove vocal nodules may be surgery. Although medical treatments have not always been incredibly effective, surgery has greatly improved over time. Many famous singers such as Sam Smith and John Mayer have gone down this path, especially taking advantage of laser and fiber optic technology. Another potential pathway is to train with a vocal coach on how to speak and sing while living with vocal nodules. Singers like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston went down this path, learning to control their ranges and vocal muscles despite persistent damage. This example of vocal pedagogy could encourage healthy singing and speaking habits, sleep patterns, and dietary changes such as drinking more water and eating less dairy. Regardless of the decision the person makes, both seem to have their own pros and cons. Vocal surgery can cause further vocal cord scarring and vocal coaching doesn’t entirely rid the folds of any nodules. These decisions should be made within the presence of a medical professional and should be chosen for personal and professional purposes.

Citations:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. “Vocal Cord Nodules and Polyps.”

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association,

www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Vocal-Cord-Nodules-and-Polyps. Accessed 27 Dec. 2020.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Vocal Cord Disorders.” Harvard Health, Nov. 2018,

www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/vocal-cord-disorders-a-to-z.

Hull, Darcey. “Thyroarytenoid and Cricothyroid Muscular Activity in Vocal Register

Control.” Iowa Research Online, 2013, ir.uiowa.edu/etd/4994/#:%7E:text=Higher%2Dpitched%20phonation%2C%20typically%20used,Shipp%20and%20McGlone%2C%201971).

McKinley, James. “Why Voices of Singers Like Adele and John Mayer Are Stilled.” The New

York Times, 20 Nov. 2011,

www.nytimes.com/2011/11/19/arts/music/why-voices-of-singers-like-adele-and-john-mayer-are-stilled.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

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