I’ve Lost My Head Voice!

Cartoon doctor with a choir
Doctor: I had a thyroidectomy, and I have not been able to recover my voice as yet.

Hi Dr. Jahn, 

In 2012 I had a thyroidectomy, and I have not been able to recover my voice as yet. My range is substantially impaired as is my strength and endurance. Often I am not able to match pitch with my initial efforts, although I can get there with some adjustments. Voice lessons are not an option right now. How can I best regain my voice?

– Susie

Dear Susie,

You didn’t tell me whether you had a complete or partial thyroidectomy, and also whether it was for a benign or malignant disease. In any case, thyroidectomy can damage the nerves to the larynx. If the recurrent nerve is damaged you may get a paralysis or weakness of the vocal fold. This is a situation where the vocal fold either doesn’t move or does not approximate completely.

Most likely, given your history, there has been an injury to the superior laryngeal nerve. This is the nerve that plays a role in head voice. Singers typically have no problem until they go through the mix and try to get into head voice. In severe cases, the head voice may be completely absent. In cases with partial damage or partial recovery, you may experience a break in the mix, but with some recovery and head voice.

Since your surgery was four years ago I suspect you may have reached a plateau in terms of any improvement. I would suggest that you see in laryngologist and have your vocal folds evaluated. I’m somewhat concerned, given the amount of time that has passed, that further improvement may be limited. 

Once you know the situation with your vocal folds, aggressive voice therapy may be the best option.

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

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