Adele Can’t Sing: “Voicebox Hero” to the Rescue- UPDATED

This has been a huge year for singer/songwriter Adele.

The 23-year-old Brit, whose hits include Rolling In The Deep and Someone Like You, has topped the nominations list for this year’s American Music Awards. She was nominated for artist of the year, favorite female artist, favorite adult contemporary artist and favorite album for 21.

But the singer’s soulful signature sound may have cost her a high price. Recently, Adele has had to cancel the rest of her 2011 performances because of damage to her vocal cords.

Adele is being treated by Dr. Steven Zeitels, Director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Zeitels has been entitled a “Voicebox Hero” as some of the most famous voices in the world— including Steven Tyler, Julie Andrews,and ESPN sportscaster Dick Vitale— have entrusted their pipes to him.

Dr. Zeitels confirmed that he is treating the singer for a vocal cord hemorrhage (bleeding):

Her people wanted me to talk to you. They wanted to make sure that the truth was out there. There have been crazy and unfortunate rumors — that she’s being treated for cancer, for example. I can tell you that is absolutely not true. To be blunt, her throat is bleeding. It’s a common condition among singers. But it is not career-ending. It is not the most serious. And in her case it can be fixed with surgery. And I will be performing that surgery on Adele at some point in the future. I believe she will be just fine.

Dr. Zeitels is one of the pioneers of the microsurgical procedures used to repair vocal cord hemorrhages, as well as for removing other vocal cord growths (such as nodules and granulomas and cancers). He designed more than 20 new laryngeal procedures and instrument used to do them. He also began to use special lasers [pulsed (pulsed-dye and KTP) and continuous wave (thulium and KTP) lasers] in the treatment of vocal cord diseases to preserve vocal cord function.

Adele is obviously in very good hands, which is great news for her many fans worldwide!

What are the vocal cords?

The vocal cords are two folds of smooth muscle within the voice box (larynx).  The larynx lies at the top of the windpipe (trachea), just below the back of the tongue. Air passing through the vocal cords causes them to vibrate, and produce the sound of your voice.



What is a vocal cord hemorrhage?

According to the American Academy of Otolargology-Head and Neck Surgery, a vocal cord hemorrhage results when one of the blood vessels on the surface of the vocal cord ruptures and the soft tissues of the vocal cord fill with blood.

Hemorrhage is usually the result of vocal trauma. Vocal abuse or misuse, such as excessive use of the voice when singing, talking, smoking,coughing, yelling, or inhaling irritants can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels of the vocal cords. These may rupture and bleed. Blood vessels that are more fragile than normal, such as those swollen by laryngitis, may also be more prone to bleed.

The main symptoms of vocal hemorrhage are hoarseness and loss of voice occurring over a fairly brief time period. This is not painful, and does not cause any difficulty with swallowing or breathing.

How is vocal cord hemorrhage treated?

Vocal cord hemorrhage is considered a vocal emergency and is treated with absolute voice rest until the hemorrhage resolves.

Often this is a one-time event, and other than improving vocal technique to prevent re-occurrence, nothing else need be done.

However, according to Dr. Lucian Sulica, a otolaryngologist on the  faculty at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, “Repeated hemorrhage… always has an underlying cause, be it a harmful voice behavior or an irregularity on the vocal fold. In the first case, voice therapy may be useful, and in the second, microlaryngoscopy may be necessary to remove or repair any small irregularities or blood vessels prone to bleeding. This is among the more delicate surgeries in laryngology.”

It seems to me that a lot of celebrities are having vocal problems lately: Adele, John Mayer, Lauren Alaina, to name a few.

With the growth of reality performance shows- The Voice, American Idol, X-Factor which turn untrained singers into overnight superstars, do you think we are putting these singers at risk for later vocal problems?

UPDATE 11/8/11

Adele underwent surgery yesterday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr Zeitel performed the successful laser microsurgical procedure. The singer is expected to recover fully.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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