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When to See an ENT: 3 Reasons to Get to a Voice Doctor Stat!

Doctor checking with depressor sore throat to teenage girl

Find your very own doc in your area and do your best to see as little of him/her as possible! –says Jaime Babbitt.

A great ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist, also called an otolaryngologist) is a must-have for all singers.

What you may not know is that it’s important for singers to choose one who specializes in the throat, i.e., a laryngologist.

I have 3 ENTs on my team (thanks for the pollen and ragweed, Nashville!).  Dr. T, as I will call him, is the best in town.

He’s the best because he’s seen thousands of singers, heard thousands of voices and has looked at thousands of pairs of vocal cords.

See an ENT right away if:

You Have to Sing While Sick

Look, sometimes, rest is best and the show doesn’t have to go on. But if you’re in a musical or on the road and you have gigs booked, get evaluated properly.

Call in favors in whatever city you’re in and get a referral; be persistent and don’t take no for an answer when you reach their office.

Have the specialist look at your vocal cords via a trans-nasal stroboscopy (flexible tube down the nose) or a rigid stroboscopy (non-flexible tube down throat). Just do it. No whining.

Please try not to worry about cost. This is your livelihood. The doctor may give you the aforementioned cortisone/B12 combo injection. It is indeed fabulous, but be careful what you wish for. These shots make you feel sooo much better, but they also lull you into a false sense of security and you can very easily over-sing, which you most emphatically do NOT want to do.

Once, I got one for a show I was in but still took it super-easy for four nights or so. Hey, I showed up and gave all I had, which was about 85%. Considering I didn’t have an understudy, that was the right call.

Your Voice Doesn’t Have its Usual Stamina and Strength

Don’t freak out; there could be myriad reasons for this. Still, you want an evaluation from a trained professional.

Keep in mind that it could be: overuse, over-talking, too much vocal fry, a virus, acid reflux and more (FYI: Do not go online to diagnose yourself. Trust me, it will not end well.).

Your doctor can do a stroboscopy but also may want to take more in-depth pictures of your cords using high-speed photography. Those tests are more expensive but may be worth it if a situation like this arises.

I’ve seen students get into trouble because they did way too much talking in loud clubs after their gigs; I’ve seen students speak with too much vocal fry and have a really hard time singing.

Whatever the outcome, it’s always better to be in the know so that you actually can do something about it sooner rather than later. Sometimes singers can benefit from a visit or two to a speech pathologist. Those guys can be really helpful, especially if you picked up some not-so-healthy speaking habits.

You’re Plagued by Allergies or Acid Reflux

ENTs can be very helpful if these things are giving you grief, too. While they’re not allergists or gastroenterologists, they see these diseases all the time and can put you at ease and on the path to wellness.

Allergies can really knock singers out, especially travelling ones. Different states, islands and countries have their own unique allergens that can wreak havoc on your voice. So, to paraphrase Billy Shakespeare: to take meds or not to take meds? That is the question.

For me, in NY and LA I’m not bad, but in Nashville, I must take them even though I hate drying myself out. Trust me, everyone is different. And everyone has different remedies: local honey at the beginning of allergy season, homoeopathic tinctures specifically geared toward the region you’re in, apple cider vinegar, Zyrtec.

I say, go with whatever works. FYI, if you do take meds, you MUST hydrate and steam!

A word about acid reflux: this is no joke and can take a voice right out of commission. Reflux can sometimes be hard to diagnose because it CAN be asymptomatic. A good otolaryngologist can, however, at least rule out any vocal cord problems and then recommend the next steps.

So, go find your very own Dr. T in your area and do your best to see as little of him/her as possible!

Note: For UK residents, you must ask your GP for a referral to see an ENT doctor. 

Find out more about Jaime Babbitt at www.workingwithyourvoice.com for bookings, see www.greenhillsguitarstudio.com/voice-lessons You can see more of Jaime’s articles here.