Maxwell’s Vocal Challenge

Megan Gloss looks at vocal problems that affect popular singers.

Case: Maxwell
Diagnosis: Vocal swelling and hemorrhaging (Vocal cord edema)

R&B singer Maxwell has been renowned since the early 1990s for his smooth and soulful vocal delivery, crooning out such Grammy Award-nominated tunes as “Pretty Wings,” “Love You,” “Lifetime,” “Matrimony: Maybe You,” “Fortunate” and “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever.”

After completing several follow-up albums and taking an eight-year hiatus, Maxwell re-emerged with the platinum-selling “BLACKsummer’snight”.

In 2012, the singer announced that he and his 11-piece band would embark on a six-day tour dubbed, “MaxwellTwoNight – M2N tour 2012.”

It would include two nights in three cities – scheduled for Los Angeles, Atlanta and Newark – and would feature Maxwell’s discography in its entirety.

But the tour was canceled.

A Vocal Challenge

Maxwell was forced to put the brakes on the six-concert stint after developing vocal swelling and hemorrhaging.

A statement posted to the singer’s website said doctors advised him to engage in complete vocal rest and undergo treatment for vocal cord edema and a vocal cord hemorrhage.

“I know this sucks, but after many months of recording, I’ve temporarily damaged my voice,” Maxwell said in the statement. “I’ve had issues before during other tours but was able to power through.”

According to doctors, “powering through” might have lead to more vocal problems for the singer.

What is vocal hemorrhaging and vocal cord edema?

Vocal swelling occurs as a result of prolonged irritation, stress, fatigue, over use or over singing, causing the vocal cords to become inflamed and swollen.

Vocal hemorrhaging results when further stress causes blood vessels within the vocal cords to rupture and bleed, resulting in a vocal cord hemorrhage.

In addition to vocal swelling and hemorrhaging, Maxwell was also said to be suffering from vocal cord edema – also known as Reinke’s edema.

This is the bilateral swelling of the vocal folds as the result of fluid collection, creating an uneven, sac-like appearance.

Singers with this condition typically have low-pitched, husky voices, using false vocal cords – either of the upper two vocal cords that are not involved in vocalization – for voice production.

A biopsy of the vocal cord frequently helps diagnose it.

Common causes of Reinke’s edema include smoking, gastroesophageal reflux, hormonal changes and chronic voice abuse.

How do you recover from it?

According to Henry Hoffman, M.D., of the University of Iowa who has studied Reinke’s edema in depth, the first course of treatment is to remove the source of the irritant.

This can be effective if done soon after development of the edema.

Surgery is also an option and can result in some restoration of the voice but is
ineffective in complete restoration to its original state –though surgical advances are being made involving robotics, limited access surgery and localized implants Hoffman said.

Speech therapy is typically offered after the procedure for proper voice production.

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