Monitoring the Health of Your Vocal Folds

I have a friend who recently discovered that his problems with the voice were actually a serious issue in a vocal fold.  Singing with problems on vocal folds can cause severe problems, and even at times end the prospects for a career.

Correct singing brings the vocal folds together, and even energetically.  If the edge of a vocal fold has an irregularity caused by reflux or scarring, this impediment to closure causes a corresponding inflammation and eventual injury to occur on the other vocal fold at the contact edge.  So the problem compounds itself.

Years ago I learned how to look at my own vocal folds.  Here is what you need:

  • a pen-light.  If there is a supply shop for doctors in your area you can find pretty strong ones.
  • a dental mirror with adjustable mirror.  The dental mirrors in pharmacies out right now do not have adjustable angle mirrors, and the angle of the mirror they have is not great for looking at the vocal folds.

Once you have these things you can look at your vocal folds by warming up the mirror under hot water.  You place the pen-light under the molars on one side and the stick of the mirror on the other side.  You push your tongue forward against the bottom teeth and in the throat, as if you were yawning.  You place the mirror right under the soft palate and shine the light on the mirror, which will reflect down on the vocal folds. You get close to a mirror to view what is happening. 

This allows you to have a clear picture of your vocal health at any point in time.  This is how I personally discovered the severity of my acid reflux disease, as I monitored the swelling on the posterior part of my vocal folds when I had heartburn.

Had my friend been keeping a watchful eye on his vocal folds, he would have not been singing with this issue.  We can’t go to the doctor all the time to have him scope our larynx.  We can do that and become experts on our laryngeal health.

The vocal fold edges should be straight and the body of the cords should be white.  If they look pink or swollen, or the edges are not straight, then you should be very careful.  I would suggest not singing until you get to the bottom of why they are not healthy.  It could be allergies, reflux, vocal strain due to too much singing, yelling, cheering, coughing, etc.

Bottom line:  monitor your vocal folds to make sure you don’t sing with unhealthy vocal folds because you might pay a very big price.

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6 responses to “Monitoring the Health of Your Vocal Folds

  1. I chuckled as I read about your “MacGyver-esque” vocal cord evaluation technique. A very good one I might add. I am a physician by vocation, a singer by passion. Using what I have learned in my day job, I will remind everyone that self monitoring is crucial, but self treatment dangerous. There is the adage “The physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient”. Be sure not to be foolish! I am going to go try your vocal fold observation trick right now.

    • Very true!!! Especially opera singers need to pay attention to this. When you sing in Europe you can walk into a pharmacy pretty much anywhere except France and buy your medicines without a precription. It’s good to monitor your vocal folds because it helps you avoid singing when you are not well enough to sing. However, please don’t go buy your own medicines.

      Thanks Doc.

  2. How do you get the right kind of mirror then?

    • I have been looking for them in various pharmacies in Philadelphia and New York. I think these adjustable types are not on the market right now. I wonder where ENT doctors get their stainless steel type ones… I have been looking online, but haven’t found any.

  3. Hi Jack, great voice, great idea, great blog and great information! I noticed you mentioned you have had reflux problems. Let me just say that until a few years ago, I didn’t really know what vocal insecurity was…I would get a little nervous for premiers but nothing that would ever really affect my voice negatively. I’ve prformed for almost 20 years and never cracked on stage thank GOD. I was a so-called MACCHINA…with a great teacher and blessed voice. I recently however discovered I have acid reflux…after 2 years or so of thinking I was just getting “old”…at 44! I know, I know…I eventually came to my senses and went to Italy’s finest, Franco Fussi. He’s known as the best and ALL and I mean ALL of Italy’s and Europe’s best singers, operatic or pop, go to him for help. He did help, and after a few months of using different medications, raised bed and MUCH HEALTHIER DIET,practically NO FAT, I can usually sing without my tenor splintering above F like it had on several occasions over the past few years. I really hope not to have to medicate myself for the rest of my life and have been considering various operations. My next appointment with Fussi is at the end of the month. How did you deal with your reflux?

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