Voice loss is not uncommon among singers, just like injury is not unusual in sport. But, as professional athletes must do everything possible to look after their bodies (eating well, warming up and down, recognizing when there’s a weakness), so must you. Many of the famous names in the industry haven’t heeded these warnings and have paid the price as a result.
Loss of singing voice causes vary and most are nothing to worry about, just a sign that you need to take a little extra care and rest. Let’s take a deep dive into the seven possible issues you might encounter in your career as a singer.
1. Vocal Fatigue
The most likely reason, if you’re a less experienced singer, will be overuse. This kind of hoarseness or voice loss should pass quickly. But you should follow these rules:
- Don’t scream and shout excessively
- Avoid too much alcohol, nicotine and vaping
- Rest when your voice feels tired and never continue if it’s hurting in any way
- Avoid singing on your throat – learn correct breathing technique and release any tension
- Don’t sing out with your range (apart from gentle exercises to gradually increase your range safely)
2. Hoarse voice and mucus in throat
If you know you’ve not been oversinging or pushing your voice to excess, the next most likely cause is an infection. Common colds, flu and other viruses can all cause voice loss. The body produces mucus to protect the delicate membranes from invading germs. However, this clogs up the vocals, causes coughing and sinus blockages, all of which are the enemy of the singer. However, this is also a frequent event that you’ll have to deal with as a professional singer and to some degree is unavoidable. You can reduce the number of viruses you catch by doing the following:
- Wash your hands regularly, especially when out and about touching surfaces in public spaces
- Eat a healthy, nutritious balanced diet to boost your immunity
- Exercise regularly
- Take rest, relax and have fun! This too boosts the immune system
- Supplements like echinacea and vitamin D during winter months can be helpful
If your infection is more pronounced, you may develop laryngitis. This is an inflammation and swelling of the larynx, or voice box, usually resulting from infection. Your vocal cords can’t move freely when they’re enlarged, meaning you struggle to speak and can only make a coraking sound. You may also develop laryngitis from oversinging if you’ve sufficiently irritated the larynx. If you have no other symptoms, this is likely to be the case. However, if your laryngitis occurs simultaneously with a cold, the virus will be the root cause.
If you strain or tire your voice at all while suffering from a respiratory infection, you’re much more likely to develop laryngitis as the voice is already compromised. This is why it’s so important to go easy when you’re sick. Laryngitis may pass in a day or two, or it could go on for up to a fortnight.
4. Vocal cord nodules
Here we venture into more serious territory. Many singers get nodules (or cysts, or polyps), so it’s not a reason to panic. However, it is a reason to re-evaluate your technique and make some changes. Most importantly you must rest and seek medical advice. At this stage, it’s not an option to carry on regardless, or you could find yourself with major problems. Symptoms of nodules are:
- Inability so sing the notes you used to
- Sudden change in register
- Persistent, ongoing hoarseness
Some famous singers who overcame this issue include Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Freddie Mercury, Luciano Pavarotti, Rod Stewart, Shirley Manson and Joss Stone. There are some patterns here. Singers with gravelly voices and those who belt ‘big’ powerful numbers are most at risk.
5. Vocal cord paralysis
One or both of your vocal cords can be affected by this rare syndrome. It’s usually triggered by an injury or health condition such as a tumour, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s. Occasionally it’s a result of extreme inflammation. Surgery is sometimes required to restore communication between nerves in the vocal cords and brain, but it may just resolve on its own after around a year, alongside speech therapy. Symptoms of vocal cord paralysis are:
- Noisy breathing
- Loss of pitch
- Trouble swallowing and loss of gag reflex
- Increased need for breath refills
- Inability to project when speaking
- Persistent coughing and throat clearing
6. Permanently damaged vocal cords
We must stress that this is very rare indeed. Especially nowadays with all the medical interventions available. But there are some cautionary tales in this category of cause. Never think that your voice is invincible. You must take care of it, as permanent damage will be the result of ignoring the warning signs like nodules, haemorrhage, and bruising.
Julie Andrews suffered from throat nodules, and unfortunately experienced further – and permanent – damage following surgery to remove them in 1997. Sadly, this ended her singing career and she sued the hospital.
7. Vocal cord haemorrhage
Adele, on the other hand, recovered from a serious vocal injury, a haemorrhage. While she was forced to cancel the tour, she bounced back after she had surgery to deal with the issue. She now has to avoid acidic foods that cause reflux – something that contributed to her haemorrhage. If you’re prone to this kind of thing like Adele, you may need to make changes to your diet.
Unfortunately, haemorrhages can recur if lifestyle changes are not made. Jess Glynne underwent vocal cord surgery in 2009 and 2015, yet again last year, she was forced to cancel major gigs due to a vocal haemorrhage.
This caused a lot of controversies, as Jess had been seen partying hard with the Spice Girls shortly before pulling out of the Isle of Wight Festival. While it may be a separate issue, we do know that lack of sleep, alcohol and smoky environments are terrible for your vocals. Jess has a superb sound, so these vocal issues are a growing concern for the artist. A haemorrhage isn’t painful, but it will cause sudden hoarseness and render you unable to sing.