Attack of the Polyps

When a young pop star needs surgery on their vocal cords it can be a singer’s worst nightmare. Performances have to be cancelled and tours prematurely ended. Adele and Sam Smith have both taken time off from the music scene due to haemorrhaged polyps, and Jess Glynne, currently enjoying whirlwind success after five consecutive number one singles, has also had to cancel shows due to recurring vocal problems that required surgery.

I’ve always tried to stay on top of my vocal health. I don’t drink or smoke and I look after myself. I am quite happy to go and see a specialist if my voice feels different, because I know so many people who have had vocal issues. One singer told me she had pushed her voice so hard during a gig she eventually felt a ‘pop’ in her voice. She later found her vocal cords had haemorrhaged.

A friend of mine damaged her voice in the recording studio because she had to work so hard to get two songs finished in two days. Both songs had extremely high notes that were usually within in her reach, but due to her schedule and a tired voice, she ended up screaming her way through the sessions. She completely lost her voice for a week afterwards.

After a long stint of gigs and recording sessions, I became concerned as my voice had been hoarse for an extended period of time. Could it be nodules? My voice would break randomly while I was talking something I had never experienced before. So I visited an ENT specialist and underwent a nasal endoscopy. A long tube with a tiny camera was fed through my nose and down into my throat. Then pictures and video were taken of my vocal cords. This was as unpleasant as it sounds – it’s a strange sensation for something to go up the nose rather than down it.

Thankfully everything was fine and the specialist gave me some great advice that I have never forgotten. She explained that polyps and nodules are bumps that come up on the vocal cords when they have been put under too much stress, much like the blisters you get on your toes if you’re wearing shoes that don’t fit. And that rather than continually cut off the callouses, you should change your shoes. In other words, you should change the way you use your voice in order to avoid surgery.

Singing and talking in your comfortable range is also very important. My talking voice is fairly low so I try not to speak too high. But it can happen when I get over enthusiastic. When it comes to singing I often sing the soprano part, however I feel that I’m more of a mezzo soprano that is where my voice is most comfortable. It is difficult to always stay low law as the part of your voice where you have to push more tends to sound more exciting and has a good energy, particularly when singing pop music.

Some acts opt to use lip synching to protect themselves. While understandably audiences want the full live experience, the artist must weigh up the risks of being completely live for their 120 (or whatever) date world tours or whether they want to still have a voice at the end. It’s a tough decision to use lipsynching but sometimes a necessary one. Michael Jackson performed The Bad World Tour completely live (watch the mind-blowing concert DVD) but tellingly, portions the following Dangerous Tour were lip synched. He is a good example of a performer who sang with a huge range and energy on every song. He could have potentially damaged his voice due to his gruelling performance schedules had he not exercised caution.

Today I am now equipped with the knowledge and the expertise of specialists to ensure I don’t let my voice get to the point where I need surgery. I am grateful that nodules, polyps and other voice problems no longer mean the end of my singing career.


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