Vocal cord nodules are growths that develop on both vocal cords. Also called “nodes”, they are a type of hard callous that develops as a result of vocal abuse. Thankfully, vocal nodules are benign/noncancerous but they can cause chronic laryngitis, discomfort, pain, and when they become swollen they can cause mucus to gather in the throat resulting in chronic coughing. All in all, they are not pleasant, and not something that should be ignored.
Vocal nodules are common in singers, actors, teachers, and people who talk a lot. My ENT (Earn Nose Throat doctor) called it a chatty person problem.
With repeated vocal abuse, the cords develop soft, swollen spots on each vocal cord. Continued strain causes these spots to develop into harder calluses called nodules.
How Vocal Nodules Develop
In my case, I developed vocal nodules from teaching dance. Originally, I was quite good at projecting my voice but one January I caught a cold that turned into laryngitis. The original vocal abuse that started my nodules to develop occurred when I forced myself to teach and speak while I had laryngitis. After that bout of laryngitis, my voice was never the same. I began to get laryngitis regularly, and because of running my dance studio, I started a vicious cycle of pushing through the laryngitis by speaking and whispering when I should have been silent.
Even after closing my dance studio and stopping to teach regularly, I realized that my voice wasn’t getting better. Losing my voice after any kind of social function was really starting to inhibit my quality of life. In fact, the problem was getting much worse, even a year after stopping my teaching. The discomfort had grown worse and I had begun coughing so I was worried that it might be something dangerous, so I finally pushed my regular doctor to send me to an ENT.
Diagnosing Vocal Nodules
When I finally got an appointment to see an ENT, having the vocal nodules diagnosed was an unpleasant experience. The doctor sent a fancy wire attached to a camera up my nose and down my throat. I’m sure that it would have been unpleasant anyways, but it was made even more uncomfortable by the fact that my throat was so swollen so the wire really scratched and burned. However, it was important to get it checked out and I’m very glad I did.
The doctor showed me the video of my swollen throat and the lumpy nodules. Yuck. I was relieved to learn that nodules are benign, but also determined to get rid of them.
When it’s determined that you have vocal nodules, you have 3 choices:
- Change the way that you use your voice.
- Take a period of silence to let the nodules heal.
- Have surgery to remove the nodules.
- Do nothing, and let the problem grow worse.
To me, it seems really crazy to get surgery when it’s possible to heal the nodules naturally through changes of voice habit and treating your voice with a resting period of silence. I opted for a combination of both 1 & 2; voice therapy and silent treatment.
The ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor recommended that I see a vocal therapist and that I take a period of silence. These are the least invasive and most effective ways to heal the nodules. However, he was unclear about how long the silence should be. The duration really depends on the person and the severity of the discomfort that you’re experiencing. Voice rest can be anywhere from 3 to 9 weeks. People who have had vocal nodules will also need to monitor how they use their voice for their entire lives to make sure that they are treating their voice properly.
Seeing a Voice Therapist
The sessions with the voice therapist were very valuable. The most helpful thing that I learned from the therapist is that I need to raise my pitch. Over time, I had been letting my voice drop and my pitch was becoming lower and lower. That low pitch was causing a rumbling in my throat. When I raise my pitch, the rumbling vanishes. It takes a lot of constant practice, exercise, and consciousness to raise my pitch to where the rumbling stops.
However, for some people it’s the opposite problem where their pitch is too high and they need to lower it. And there are other factors in how you use your voice, like how and if you project your voice, if you succumb to glottal attack, etc. The best advice I can give is to see a voice therapist to work on your own individual voice needs.
Before I began the silence, I did some research and planning to determine what tools I could equip myself with to make the silence go more smoothly. I had all sorts of things planned. I downloaded a text to speech app, and I also pre-recorded a bunch of speech and songs that I often use at home with my pet birds. I thought I’d be using these recordings and the app on my phone every day, but I only used them on Day 1 and since then haven’t bothered with them. I also ordered an attractive whistle necklace from Etsy. It’s nice, it’s kind of a fashion statement, but as a whistle I haven’t found it to be that helpful.
The benefit of most of these tools have proven to be pretty negligible save for one item: my boogie board. I love this thing! A boogie board is a scribble board that you can write on with a stylus and erase with the touch of a button. I honestly have no idea how this thing works but it’s an amazing. Geoff was looking at it and couldn’t decide how it works either. When I misplaced the stylus, I was able to write with my finger nail, so it has nothing to do with magnetics. I don’t understand it but I love it. I recommend a boogie board to anyone; not only for someone on a speaking hiatus but I think it’s a great item to keep near your desk for quick notes. Love it.
Oh, I should mention that I did also order some large customized buttons from Etsy with a large “CAN’T SPEAK” explanation. That’s been practical. For anyone doing a silent treatment, I do think the button is a good idea.
Also, before I began the silent treatment, I was scheduled to run a large event (the TD Niagara Jazz Festival) so when I had to postpone beginning the healing process I used a portable microphone/headset to amplify my voice. It worked pretty well, though for running an event where you’re very mobile I had to get used to making sure that the speaker was actually pointing in the direction of the person I needed to speak with. I thought the speaker worked well and I’m looking forward to using it for any noisy situations and events once I’m speaking again. That said, I’m going to scale back my involvement in event organizing because it does take such a toll on my voice. Also, I should mention that I did have a bit of a problem with the strap for the headset BUT Amazon sent me a brand new replacement for the headset immediately without any hesitation, so now I actually have 2 fully operational headsets, just with one that has a faulty strap. I think this microphone/headset is a great deal. I did a lot of research on the best, most cost-effective option, and I definitely think I picked the right one.
I also recommend essential oils for helping your vocal nodules to heal, particularly the dōTERRA essential oil blend called DDR Prime that’s good for healing and specifically for lumps and bumps. The dōTERRA DDR Prime 30mL is a really good deal when you get it directly through Amazon because when you get it through a dealer, they mark the price up a lot. I had one very nice lady try to sell it to me but she was charging $100 instead of the $50 it costs on Amazon. As much as I would have liked to support her personal business, that is a lot more money.
You can take the essential oils in a variety of ways:
- Diffuse a few drops in water using an essential oil diffuser. It’s healing and also smells really good. It’s herbaceous, citrus, and sweet smelling.
- Put a drop on the roof of your tongue using your finger
- 2-4 drops in water to drink, twice daily
- Apply 1-2 drops directly to the outside of your throat, four times daily
If you don’t want to get the blend, you can also make the blend yourself by sourcing the individual oils and blending them yourself. It’s a combination of Frankincense Resin, Wild Orange Peel, Lemongrass Leaf, Thyme Leaf, Clove Bud, Summer Savory Plant, and Niaouli Leaf essential oils.
I also use certain healing superfoods in my green smoothie every morning to help heal and also prevent the recurrence of vocal cords. In particular, I recommend reishi mushroom which I believe is the most powerful superfood in the world. Read my post about reishi mushroom here.
Ashwagandha is another powerful superfood. This is not one to take all the time. It should be reserved for times of need… Like during the healing process in combination with your silent period; that would be the perfect time to take ashwagandha.
These superfoods can be bitter so they are best taken in a smoothie that includes banana and another fruit, like the my favourite Spinach & Raspberry Green Smoothie or Tropical Mango Green Smoothie. If the superfoods are still tasting a bit bitter, a little stevia will do the trick.
Vocal nodules aren’t fun, but thankfully they aren’t dangerous and, like with many illnesses and conditions, there are natural treatments and solutions to cure and heal. If you have any information that you’d like to share about your own experience with vocal nodules, I’d love to hear it. Please get in touch!
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