Vocal Nodules: What Are They Really?

Vocal nodules are the dismal end result of magnificently thoughtless self-affliction. If some singers treated their pets with as much casual neglect as they do their vocal cords they’d be behind bars.

Even a healthy voice will rebel if you strain it by over-singing. Tired vocal cords become irritated and swollen. As you continue the abuse they lose their elasticity and may refuse to press together to produce a clean sound.

If you find yourself hoarse at the end of a long show, (or worse) you feel you constantly need to clear your throat, or (this is the worst!) you are on the waiting list for an opening in surgery to remove vocal nodules, it’s possible you are a Victim of Vocal Abuse.

Straining your voice can lead to a condition called vocal nodules, or “throat nodes” — a serious problem, and one that plagues many fine singers like Keith Urban and Adele for example. Throat nodes form like calluses. They’re a protective layer of compacted, dead skin cells, caused by repeated friction and pressure — something like the calluses you would get on your hands if you worked too long with a shovel in the garden.

When you use a shovel, after a while your hands build up a layer of calluses to protect themselves from the friction. As long as you keep shoveling, the calluses will keep building and they don’t begin to fade until you stop. Vocal cords develop calluses in much the same way.

When strain or friction irritate your throat, the first thing your body does is send down a bit of mucous to lubricate it. That’s why people feel they have to clear their throats when they yell. It’s like the body says, “Okay, I hurt, so let’s try a protective salve here.” After a while, if you keep straining your voice and clearing your throat, the body seems to say, “Okay, I guess that’s not working. Let’s build a callus to protect this area.”

The problem now is this; the callus gets in the way and prevents your vocal cords from fitting together cleanly. Your voice begins to sound hoarse and unpredictable. You’re probably headed for throat nodes.

Clearing your throat can actually contribute to vocal nodules because it puts a double burden on your vocal cords. First, it wipes away your throat’s initial defense mechanism, the lubricating fluid your body responds with. And then, the pressure you apply to your cords to clear them, irritates and causes them to swell. If you feel you must clear, please be gentle.

As with calluses, throat nodes will shrink and go away, but complete vocal rest over an extended period of time is required. Some people choose instead to have them surgically removed. However, if you don’t correct the source of the problem — the abuse that put them there in the first place — they’ll simply re-form. Then you have to deal with the issue of scar tissue from the surgery as well.