Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
Professional singers are vocal athletes, and like all other athletes they are at risk of vocal injury. Injuries can happen because of abusive singing or coughing too hard or from acid reflux. If you suspect something is wrong, you should see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). Unfortunately not all ENTs have the same qualifications and you can easily run into problems. My wife recently suggested that one of her students see an ENT. Instead of consulting my wife for the name of a reputable doctor, the parent took their daughter to a friend of a friend. The doctor refused to look at the young girls vocal folds, didn’t listen to her sing, and based off of symptoms alone, he diagnosed the student as having acid reflux. That kind of doctoring is dangerous and arguably unethical. However, this kind of care is quite common. Many ENTs earn the majority of their income treating people for hearing loss, ear infections, swallowing disorders, and other head and neck disorders. If they have not spent considerable time studying the special needs of singers, they will likely lack the thorough understanding of the vocal mechanism required to treat vocal athletes. Doctors who specialize in working with professional voice users will often identify themselves as laryngologists. You should expect the following when visiting a laryngologist who regularly works with singers (these suggestions come from one of the world’s leading voice doctors, Dr. Robert Sataloff, M.D., D.M.A).
If the doctor does not at least visualize the vocal folds, they have no possible way of knowing what is going on. There are singers who have no vocal damage yet sound very rough while there are beautiful operatic voices that have very visible nodules. Making a diagnosis without visualizing the vocal folds is irresponsible. If you cannot find a doctor in your area who is able or willing to do a thorough exam, here are a few nationally recognized clinics that I highly recommend.
If you plan on singing for a living, taking care of your voice must be your top priority. If you owned a brand new Ferrari, would you take it to Pep Boys to be serviced? Probably not. You would most likely take it to a European Import Specialist. Your voice is your Ferrari, don’t take it to a “Pep Boys” ENT, take it to a specialist who cares about your concerns and understands the type of specialized care you deserve and need.