Vocal nodules or nodes are thickenings or callouses that form on the vocal cords (also called vocal folds). They occur in response to chronic vocal fold abuse and overuse.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to, worsening hoarseness, limited pitch range, breathiness, and tightness or discomfort in the neck. These symptoms can also be signs of other voice issues. Just because you have one or even all of these symptoms does not mean you have vocal cord nodules.
But let’s back up a bit here. Hopefully you are reading this because you want to PREVENT vocal fold nodules and other injuries in the first place.
7 Tips to Prevent vocal cord nodules
- Limit your speaking-voice use. For example, don’t talk on the phone in loud environments or over road noise. Avoid yelling. Limit speaking on the days you have an audition or a show. And if you’re a “talker”, talk less. You are a professional voice user! You have to give your voice the care that regular voice users may not need. A virtuoso pianist is not likely to use her hands in ways that could cause them injury. Likewise, you need to avoid using your voice in ways that might cause it injury.
- Keep your voice in shape. Methodically work out your voice every day. Keep it strong and flexible. You actually need a training schedule, just like you would if you were preparing to run a marathon. You demand a lot from your voice. Give it the training it needs. Spend time stretching it by doing semi-occluded vocal tract exercises throughout the entire range of your voice, every day. Spend time working on the vocal techniques that your style demands. Hire a voice personal trainer (voice coach) to help you design, implement, and assess your daily workout.
- Avoid or limit foods that can encourage your body to have acid reflux. If you have esophageal reflux, acid could end up going down into your larynx and damaging it. This is a good and brief article about reflux prevention.
- Sleep. If your body is tired, your voice is tired. Singers, more than other musicians, need sufficient sleep to maintain their instrument. Your instrument is made from living tissue, not plastic, metal, or wood.
- Hydrate! Your vocal folds are highly sensitive to under-hydration. As a serious voice user, you need to STAY hydrated all of the time. That means 70 to 80 ounces or about 2 liters of water a day. If you are in a dry environment, use a humidifier.
- Don’t smoke anything! Smoke goes down your windpipe, right through your vocal folds, and irritates them. No way around this.
- If you notice voice changes that last longer than a few days or one week, seek out a laryngologist – a doctor who specializes in the voice. He or she can evaluate what’s going on with your vocal cords and surrounding tissues and catch a developing problem before it becomes a big problem.
Respect yourself, your art, and your body. Give yourself the care that you need and that each of you deserves. You are a vocal artist and rely on your voice to express yourself and to make this world a more beautiful place. Get what you need for yourself to be the singer and performer you wish to be.