Frank Ocean Cancels Tour: What is a Vocal Tear?

About Dr. Reena Gupta

Dr. Reena Gupta is the Director of the Division of Voice and Laryngology at OHNI. Dr. Gupta has devoted her practice to the care of patients with voice problems. She is board certified in otolaryngology and laryngology and fellowship trained in laryngology, specializing in the care of the professional voice.

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There is another performer to add to the list of those who have had to cancel a tour for a vocal injury.  Frank Ocean recently suffered a “tear” of his vocal cord, which mandated cancellation of his Australian tour.


How do vocal tears occur? Are they the same as nodules?

The vocal cords are delicate structures that are lined by a very thin cover, called mucosa.  This mucosa is similar to the lining on the inside of the cheek (smooth, glossy, soft).  When singing, the vocal cords contact each other several hundred times a second. Unless conditions are optimized (good vocal health, good sound system, etc), injuries may occur during this rapid cycle of opening and closure.

Some examples of vocal injuries that occur during voice use are:

It is important to differentiate the above injuries, which occur during voice use, to the more commonly discussed ones.  These other injuries, such as scarring, nodules, polyps, and cysts, usually develop after trauma from a hemorrhage or a tear when the singer does not rest their voice.  These types of injuries may also develop from incorrect voice use.

What is a vocal cord tear?

A tear is a small injury to the edge of the vocal cord. It is similar to what happens when you accidentally bite the inside of your cheek or burn the roof of your mouth eating something hot.  The flap of mucosa that forms from voice trauma can disrupt vibrations and result in permanent hoarseness if the voice is not rested.

Did Frank Ocean suffer from a vocal tear?

While it is possible he had a vocal tear, he may also have suffered a hemorrhage, which is more like a bruise.  This would explain an immediate change in the voice and difficulty stabilizing pitch.

Can you recover from a vocal tear?

The good news is that when a tear is diagnosed correctly and early, it usually heals completely with voice rest.  Diagnosis may be difficult and requires a skilled laryngologist and videostroboscopy  as this is the only way to see this microscopic injury.

Read patient stories about Dr. Reena Gupta from The Division of Voice at the Osborne Head and Neck Institute.

To learn more about the voice, click here.