Celine Dion’s Viral Voice

Deal with vocal setbacks that affect popular singers says Megan Gloss

Case: Celine Dion
Diagnosis: Viral illness resulting in weakened vocal cords

Vocal problems can silence even the most powerful of voices.

Just ask Celine Dion.

The Canadian-born pop diva known for her soaring chops and crystal clear precision was set to headline a series of performances at The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas last March when she was forced to cancel 10 shows due to experiencing weakness in her right vocal cord.

According to a press release, Dion experienced difficulty while performing. She headed to Los Angeles for an examination at the UCLA Medical Center, where a doctor advised the singer to rest her voice for six to eight weeks.

In Her Own Words

“I tried to sing at my sound check, and I had no control of my voice whatsoever,” said Dion, who began her three-year residency at Caesars the same month.

“We thought that after a few days rest I would improve, but it wasn’t getting any better. I guess it was worse than I thought.

“Obviously this is the worst thing for a singer … not being able to do your shows,” Dion added. “I feel worse knowing that I’m disappointing my fans. I’m so sorry. I hope they forgive me.”

However, after following doctor’s orders and resting her voice, Dion returned for her next run of Las Vegas shows from June 9 to Aug. 19.

The cause of the vocal trouble? A viral illness had weakened Dion’s voice.

How Viral Illnesses Affect the Voice

According to Christopher Y. Chang, MD, head of Fauquier ENT Consultants, when a virus infects the mucosa of the upper airway, it causes inflammation of the mucosa lining including the vocal cords.

With inflammation, the vocal cords swell.

In the most common cases, the voice might take on a breathy, raspy or strained timbre, or show changes in volume or pitch.

The range of the voice can be noticeably lower and decreased due to swelling and can tire quickly.

“That’s why with laryngitis, the pitch of the voice decreases and it becomes more effortful to talk,” Chang said.

“To use an analogy, think of a violin string where the thicker string has a deeper pitch than a thin string. It also takes more power to play the thicker string.

Dr. Chang explains in more detail here.

Viral Voice Recovery.

If you’ve experienced cold- or flu-like symptoms for longer than 5-7 days with no improvement, a trip to the doctor might be an order.

The common cold generally will start to dissipate within this time. Lingering illnesses point toward the possibility of an infection, according to doctors.

With a common cold, the voice often will improve on its own with adequate rest and plenty of fluids to keep the vocal cords hydrated and help loosen and flush away phlegm.

For viral infections, doctors might prescribe an antibiotic to help treat the infection; however, many vocal professionals warn against those medicines that have the ability to dry out the vocal cords.

They advise singers to either meet it with plenty of water or request an antibiotic that won’t dry you out.

In either scenario, doctors’ orders include vocal rest.

“With talking/singing during active laryngitis, further trauma may occur to the vocal cord lining promoting even more inflammation and swelling.

It may also lead to another vocal disorder known as muscle tension dysphonia.”

“Voice rest is absolutely important for vocal recovery as quickly as possible,” Chang said.

Megan Gloss is a classically trained vocalist and writer based in the United States.