Keith Urban: Surgery for a Vocal Polyp

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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Every day seems to bring another story of a singer who has succumbed to “throat troubles” requiring surgery.  In this latest tale of vocal cords gone awry, Keith Urban has announced he will be undergoing vocal surgery at the end of November to remove a vocal polyp. In an increasingly common (and alarming) trend, singers with crippled voices are turning up left and right.

Singer Keith Urban is the latest star to have vocal surgery.

What is a vocal polyp?

A polyp occurs when prolonged, excessive voice use causes vocal swelling.  If the voice isn’t cared for, then the swelling can become a polyp.

Postoperative view after removal of polyp.

How do I know if I have a polyp?

People with polyps will often note:

  • Loss of vocal range
  • Pain when they speak/sing
  • Voice fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Throat discomfort

However the only way to know for sure if to have a thorough voice exam.

What is the treatment?

While surgery may be required, there are treatments that may help you avoid surgery.  Therapy alone can sometimes help decrease polyp size.

 What are the risks of surgery?

Vocal surgery is very risky for a singer and should not be taken lightly.  No surgeon, no matter how skilled or experienced, can operate without leaving scar.  Scar can worsen the voice and decrease vocal range.

The amount of scar and the impact of that on your voice depends on several things:

  • The skill of the surgeon
  • The quality of the surgeon’s instruments
  • Your technique for voice use
  • How your body heals
  • Your overall vocal health (including caring for any medical issues that impact your voice)

Will Keith Urban recover?

In good hands, and with the right treatment plan, he stands a good chance at recovery.

There are many things that factor into the overall success of vocal surgery.  Seeking a good laryngologist, having good management of your health issues before surgery, and having a good vocal therapist are good ways to ensure vocal success.

So why are so many singers having trouble?

I see singers with vocal problems very frequently.  Between polyps, cysts, and nodules, vocal problems occurs with demanding vocal unless the voice is cared for meticulously.

I am a strong believer in preventative voice care and pre-tour, pre-performance checks.  But when I talk to performers about this, I often get a blank stare.  It is so contrary to singing culture to see a doctor, unless you are having a problem .

This problem-driven visit often happens too late.  This same singer, if they had come when they were feeling well, would show signs of an impending vocal problem.  Rather than coming in, they are encouraged to push through it.  It only takes a slightly harder than normal push to propel a fragile singer over the edge.

Singers have many obligations besides singing that require voice.  Interviews, public appearances, and rehearsing require significant voice use.  Unless that singer works closely with a voice doctor, voice therapist, and singing coach, that level of demand will lead to an injury.

Consider the similar example of a professional football player.  While we are upset when a player injures himself and requires surgery, we are not that surprised.  These players push their bodies to an extreme and we know that can cause injury.

A professional singer is a vocal athlete and is equally prone to injury.  The major difference is that a professional athlete typically has a head and specialty coach, trainer, and physical therapist as well as an on-call team doctor.  A vocalist does not even seek these services out.  They wait until they need help for a problem, not seeking advice for injury prevention.

Only a well-designed vocal health team, with a voice doctor (laryngologist), voice therapist, and vocal coach, can help a singer avoid vocal problems before they require surgery.

To learn more about Dr. Reena Gupta or vocal polyps, visit: