Entries in Vocal Cords (4)


Vocal Cord Gel Could Revive Damaged Voices

Pixland/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Researchers in Boston have discovered a gel that could repair vocal cord damage and help people with hoarse voices.

The artificial vocal cord material replaces a layer of the vocal structure to restore flexibility, allowing the vocal folds to vibrate more easily, which creates sound, said Dr. Steven Zeitels, director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He hopes for the biomaterial developed and tested with MIT chemical engineering professor Robert Langer to reach human trials next year.

Vocal cords can develop scarring a number of ways, including cancer and overuse from singing, but it can also come from normal wear and tear, such as shouting over a group of students every day in a classroom, Zeitels said.

"There's probably no part of the human body that sees more trauma in a lifetime," Zeitels said, adding that when he measured Steven Tyler's vocal cords during a concert in 2007, his vocal cords collided 7,800 times.

The vocal cords, or folds, are made up of three layers: a surface layer, the middle layer (gelatinous) and the deepest layer (muscle), said Dr. Milan Amin, the director of New York University's Voice Center.  When the middle gel-like layer is damaged, the top layer sticks to the bottom layer and interrupts vibration, causing hoarseness, he said.  This is called vocal scarring.

Zeitel said he hopes to inject the gel into the vocal folds' outer membrane to decrease stiffness from scarring.  It would have to be replaced, but he hopes it will be long-lasting.

The throat surgeon treated singer Adele last year when she came to him with vocal bleeding, and Major League Baseball announcer Joe Buck, when a virus paralyzed his vocal nerve last spring.  He also became Julie Andrews' doctor after a routine surgery ruined her famous singing voice in the 1990s.

But Zeitels said the gel, which he developed with Langer, won't make Andrews sing like she did in The Sound of Music just yet.  To restore vocal ranges like Andrews', he'll need an even more advanced gel, "the perfect material."

"Singers won't get this for ages," Zeitels said.  "We have to fix the cancer patients first."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Celebrity Voices Saved by Surgery

Kevin Mazur/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- Singer-songwriter Adele will take the stage at the Grammys on Sunday, giving her first performance since she had surgery in November for a vocal cord hemorrhage. Though operations have saved several famous voices in recent years, doctors say going under the knife is often a last resort when it comes to repairing vocal cords.

A vocal cord hemorrhage like Adele’s happens when tiny blood vessels feeding the vocal cords rupture and leak. Surgery can seal the blood vessels to prevent them from filling the vocal cords with blood, which make it difficult for them to vibrate.

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Recovering from the surgery is no small matter, especially for a performer who needs a booming voice to sing for millions of people. Dr. Kristine Tanner, clinical director of the University of Utah Voice Disorders Center, said Adele has likely had full use of her voice since early January. Usually after surgery for a vocal hemorrhage, patients completely rest their voices for one week, begin speaking lightly after two or three weeks and can gradually begin singing three to six weeks after surgery.

“Then you have to work back up to your previous endurance level, like going back to the gym after being out for six weeks,” Tanner said.

Vocal cord problems are an occupational hazard for many professional singers, recently plaguing the likes of John Mayer and Keith Urban, both of whom went under the knife to save their voices.

Performers who belt out songs to sold-out arenas, record tracks for new albums and use their voice for day-to-day speaking can develop polyps and nodules on their cords, keeping them from vibrating correctly when air passes over them. Doctors can detect these problems using imaging technology and scopes with cameras attached, and fix them with minimally invasive procedures, such as phonomicrosurgery.

But voice experts say surgery is often a last resort for a performer’s vocal troubles. Dr. Michael Benninger, chairman of the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, has treated dozens of celebrity singers and public speakers. He said most doctors recommend other types of treatments to correct patients’ vocal troubles.

“We rarely have to do surgery on these patients,” Benninger said. “It is surprising how many high-profile performers that we see that behavioral modification is what they need.”

Formal vocal training, speech therapy, larynx massages and even changes in diet, alcohol use and other lifestyle habits can do a lot to alleviate exhausted, injured vocal cords, which can take as much of a beating as the muscles and bones of athletes. Often, these fixes are a better solution than surgery, Tanner said.

“It’s like a runner. You can operate on their ankle, but it would be preferred to change their form so they don’t continue to re-injure themselves,” Tanner said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Why So Many Vocal Cord Surgeries for Award-Winning Singers?

Kevin Mazur/WireImage(LOS ANGELES) -- For some of today's most powerful young singers, vocal cord issues have them "rolling in the deep."

The health of singing sensation Adele's raspy voice, which propelled her into superstardom and has made her a favorite to sweep the Grammys next month, was threatened last year. Weeks after her Sept. 22 concert at Albert Hall in London, the singer/songwriter had surgery to repair her vocal cords and save her career. She hasn't sung publically since her surgery.

But the 23-year-old isn't the only young singer to go under the knife to help save her voice. John Mayer, 34, was operated on last year, as was 44-year-old country star Keith Urban.

Singers are suffering from polyps, nodules and even hemorrhaging in their throats, the kind of severe damage that can shut down any booming voice, according to Dr. Shawn Nasseri, an otolaryngologist in Beverly Hills who treats many of the biggest money-making singers in the music business today.

It takes the coordination of the lungs, diaphragm, neck, voice box, throat and mouth to produce a voice, but it's when the vocal cords are brought together and vibrate that a pitch and tone are produced. Nasseri said for a singer suffering from a hemorrhaging polyp on their vocal cords, similar to what Adele had, the polyp can keep the two vocal cords from meeting and give the person "absolutely no voice."

Nasseri said these kinds of injuries are not attributed to genetics, but happen because of a specific vocal technique that singers are doing wrong -- forcing or straining their voice when they should be resting it.

"It's like if you have a bruised, swollen ankle and you want to go run 10 miles, that's exactly when you're going to have trouble," he said.

Problems are easily developed when high demands are placed on popular singers by the new realities of the music business, which is now so dependent on touring, traveling and keeping an active public profile.

And it's not just the career demands that can take its toll on singers, but also lifestyle choices -- cigarettes, alcohol and even acid reflux can cause long-term voice problems.

Soul singer John Legend, 33, said he has grown mindful of the importance of looking after his voice.

"I've certainly been no stranger to having issues with my voice," he said. "My first year performing was the worst year because I didn't know how to pace myself, and once I started to understand how it worked, I started to pace myself better."

When the vocal cords are damaged, Nasseri said minimally invasive surgery, the type Adele underwent, heals wounds with minimal risk.

"But we always use surgery as a last option, because everyone knows about Julie Andrews' voice," he said.

Andrews, the star of the original "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" films, lost her singing voice after a 1997 surgery. Her story remains a cautionary tale to other musicians. Recording artist Celeste Prince is slowly making a comeback after, she said, vocal problems and subsequent surgery ruined her signature raspy sound and threatened her career. Since her recovery Prince said she was "relieved" to get her voice back.

Vocal coach Roger Love, who has worked with almost everyone in the music business from Gwen Stefani to Def Leppard, said he prefers to heal damaged vocal cords without surgery.

"Why would anyone want surgery?" Love said. "If I tell the artist that I can eliminate those calluses that are on their cords by teaching them how to sing better, who's going to take the knife? In my view the vocal cords are never better after surgery."

Love said he will lay down the law of good vocal practice with his top-tier singing clients, starting with proper vocal warm-up exercises before shows.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Functional Dysphonia: Vocal Cord Massage Brings Mom's Voice Back

ABC News(CLEVELAND) -- After coming down with a cold in May 2010, Erin Martin could only muster a whisper for weeks and then months.

"I woke up on a Sunday with a really bad sore throat," she said. "A week and a half went by and I didn't have a voice."

Three months later, the hairstylist who rarely found herself at a loss for words with clients was rendered voiceless. Martin of Wilmington, Del., said she thought she would never speak again -- that was until she visited Dr. Claudio Milstein at the Cleveland Clinic's Head and Neck Institute and was diagnosed with functional dysphonia, an abnormal tightening of the muscles around the voice box.

After 15 minutes of massaging and manipulating Martin's vocal cords, Milstein had the mother of four laughing -- and crying -- and speaking in her regular voice. Before she traveled to the Cleveland Clinic, Martin said the eight or so doctors she saw were perplexed by her condition.

"We weren't talking the same way we did," said husband Tom Martin. "It was like I wasn't married almost. A lot of things we did, we weren't doing together."

Erin said one day her brother and friend told her about a story they'd heard in the news.

"They called and said, 'You gotta listen to this woman. She sounds just like you,'" she said.

The woman in the news had functional dysphonia, in which the vocal cords get very tight and locked in position, making them unable to vibrate to produce sound. Martin said she was skeptical but made an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic and drove seven hours to get there on her birthday.

After five minutes of massage and manipulation, hints of her voice were starting to appear. Fifteen minutes later, Martin was laughing. "I am going to cry," she said.

"Usually in one intervention you can make a huge difference and improve their quality of life right away," Milstein said. "Sometimes I see patients that have had this condition for years and they are able to regain their voice in one session."

When Martin called home, her son didn't believe it was really her. "Are you sure it's not a prank call?" he said. "No, it's not a prank call. It's me," she responded.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio