When you need a voice doctor

Hello singers, I just wanted to give a few quick tips about seeing a physician for a voice-related issue. This is not medical advice. This is advice on how to get medical advice.

The type of doctor that looks at vocal problems is in the category of otolaryngology, commonly called “ENT” for “ear, nose, throat”. If the doctor is a specialist in the larynx, he may be called a laryngologist. Not all ENTs, nor even all laryngologists, are well-versed in the issues of the singer. Try to get to somebody who specializes in voice, and within that, has worked with singers. However, a good general ENT can often be a huge help in the short term if you can’t get to a singers’ specialist.

It would be very helpful to you and the doctor if you wrote a detailed paragraph describing what your voice cannot do that it should be able to do. Describe when the problem occurs, if circumstances make it better or worse, and how you use your voice. Do you sing a lot or a little? Do you have to perform under stressful conditions? How long has the problem existed? Does there seem to be a moment or incident when you realized something was wrong? Have you had issues before, and if so, what kinds? What medications are you currently taking? You might consider showing a short video of a time when you were singing well for comparison.

When you finally get in to see the doctor, get right to the heart of the matter and make some of the sounds that are no longer working. Make sure you include sirens up and down through your breaks. Do sirens while the viewing instrument is looking down your throat. Make sure that the doctor is recording it. Some functional issues do not reveal themselves easily. The vocal folds themselves work in several planes and what is happening on the surface is not the whole story. Vocalizing a variety of sounds can reveal more to the doctor than his standard checks do. Also make sure that you communicate your written paragraph from above and have it entered into your medical record. Ask for the video recording of your laryngeal endoscopy. The different types of endosocopy are summarized nicely in this document.

About “reflux.” This is a sneaky condition that can affect the vocal folds and singing greatly. Sometimes it seems to be a catch-all for when other causes cannot be determined. If reflux is suspected, please get to the right specialist for a thorough exam and diagnosis. If it turns out you have some form of reflux, get it remediated immediately. When reflux is present, it is often frequent and persistent, and can confuse the issue of what is causing vocal problems.

There is plenty to consider and I’m sure some of you have some additional ideas. Feel free to comment below.

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

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